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    Sunday, May 26, 2024

    Mitchell College students walk for suicide prevention

    Mitchell College juniors Kayla Vargas, front left, and Thomas Simmons, front right, lead the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention Saturday, April 1, 2023, along Pequot Avenue in New London. Vargas was the coordinator for the 2023 Out of the Darkness walk and Simmons is the founder of the Mitchell Mariners Mental Health Awareness Club that sponsored the event. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People pause for a moment of silence Saturday, April 1, 2023, on the Mitchell College campus in New London before the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention sponsored by the Mitchell Mariners Mental Health Awareness Club. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People walk along Montauk Avenue Saturday, April 1, 2023, while participating in the Mitchell College Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention sponsored by the Mitchell Mariners Mental Health Awareness Club. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London ― Despite gloomy skies and a drizzle of rain on Saturday afternoon, Mitchell College students and community members walked through the neighborhoods surrounding the school wearing colorful bead necklaces for a purpose.

    The bead necklaces were part of the Out of the Darkness walk put on by the Mitchell Mariners Mental Health Awareness Club to support suicide prevention and raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

    The beads were not a sign of celebration but for commemoration, each color representing something different. Purple meant the loss of a friend or relative; white for the loss of a child; green representing a personal struggle; rainbow for allies of the LGBTQ+ community, and more.

    This year, the walk raised $1,450 in donations for the foundation. The mental health club has held a walk every year since its establishment in 2020.

    Thomas Simmons, founder and president of Mitchell Mariners Mental Health Awareness Club, is a junior majoring in psychology. He said the first walk was held in remembrance of a friend who had died by suicide on campus as a freshman. He said the club has continued to do the walk to remember his friend and end the stigma surrounding mental health.

    Simmons, who was one of four speakers at the event, talked about the effects of mental health and suicide on the LGBTQ+ community.

    “According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity but rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” he said.

    He said the Trevor Project, which is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.

    Simmons said he and his friends started the mental health club because there was a lack of mental health initiatives on campus. Although it struggles with funding, he said the school has been supportive of the club and overall has done its best to address mental health needs.

    He said students have access to a 24/7 crisis counseling app to supplement the one full-time therapist on campus.

    Kayla Vargas, vice president of the club, said she wants the walk, which this year had about 45 attendees, to continue after Simmons and her have graduated from Mitchell.

    “We just want to make sure everyone has a voice here,” she said.

    Paul Dagle of Niantic provided opening remarks before the walk as a representative of the Connecticut chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He spoke about losing his son Brian to suicide as a sophomore in college unaware of how deep his struggles were.

    He said anyone struggling with mental health or knows of someone struggling should know about 988, the new national suicide and crisis lifeline.

    Dagle also is co-founder of the Brian Dagle Foundation made in memory of his son. The foundation offers support groups, educational resources and community discussions on suicide prevention and grief support.

    A few Mitchell students spoke after the walk and shared their experiences struggling with mental health.

    Molly Steel-Miller spoke about the pressures placed on student athletes dealing with appearance, performance and financial stress.

    “I encourage awareness to those that bring you Friday Night Lights, the Madness of March and five-set matches,” she said. “Because just as we need you cheering in the stands as our fifth man, we need you after the scoreboard is turned off.”

    Help is available

    Help is available 24/7 for anyone with suicidal thoughts. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or text HOME to 741741. Learn more abuot suicide prevention at www.preventsuicide.org.

    j.vazquez@theday.com

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