Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW students organize Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention

Walk emphasizes connection through community, set to take place April 21
Photo by Cat Carroll, The Badger Herald.

CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of suicide and/or self harm. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm, dial 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. View options for mental health services on campus through University Health Services.

Last spring, Hailey Shevitz signed up to volunteer at the University of Wisconsin campus Out of the Darkness Walk — one of more than 400 walks on college campuses and in cities across the nation raising funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

She had previously participated in the walk in her hometown of Pittsburgh, but as a first-year student, Shevitz wanted to volunteer for a cause personal to her that would also benefit her campus community. This year, Shevitz is serving as the Chair of the Out of the Darkness Walk on the UW campus.


The UW walk is historically one of the largest campus walks each year, Shevitz said, raising tens of thousands of dollars and bringing together hundreds of participants. The 2024 UW Out of the Darkness Walk is set to take place April 21, beginning at 1 p.m. The two-mile route starts and ends at the Sellery Residence Hall basketball courts.

Shevitz described the walk as an empowering experience, bringing together students, businesses and members of the greater community to support the cause. She hopes the walk will build a sense of community and help individuals experiencing mental health challenges feel less alone.

“The goal is to walk ‘out of the darkness’ together,” Shevitz said. “… There is so much power in knowing that you’re not alone in those feelings, and there’s so much power in physically being in a place where you can see that.”

Strengthening the campus community

The 2022 UW Healthy Minds Survey, administered April 2022, found more than 1 in 10 (12%) of students indicated in the past year they seriously considered attempting suicide. The national average at the time the survey was administered was 15%.

Of the 22,000 undergraduate and graduate students invited to complete the survey, 3,658 students responded. The survey provided insights on the intersection of mental health and student success on campus.

Suicide prevention and mental health promotion specialist at University Health Services KK Kothe pointed to strong mental health services and support systems at UW to help explain the lower rate on campus, in comparison to the national rate. But she said continued work is needed.

“It highlights that there needs to be accessible mental health services and support tailored to the specific needs of students,” Kothe said.

On the UW campus, building a community that understands and values mental health is especially important. But stigma surrounding mental health challenges can act as a barrier to building these communities, according to Kothe.

Events like the Out of the Darkness Walk help destigmatize mental health challenges, opening the conversation about what students may be feeling and experiencing, Kothe said. These conversations can have meaningful impacts on the students involved, as well as the greater campus community.

“Engaging in proactive conversations about suicide prevention, to help reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues, can really encourage help-seeking behaviors, and just foster a community of support and understanding within our university,” Kothe said.

Kothe emphasized how shared firsthand experiences put students in a position where they can support one another. She has worked with members of AFSP-UW to provide information on resources available through UHS, so students involved can help facilitate peer-to-peer support.

“The more people that we see in this space … the more powerful the results will be,” Kothe said. “Knowing people are not alone and being willing to open up about these heavier topics in a way that just really normalizes it.”

A ‘powerful source of connection’

Groups already working to destigmatize mental health challenges on the UW campus have registered teams for the Out of the Darkness Walk. This includes UHS, Badger Recovery, UW Athletics, the psychology department and more, Shevitz said. Local churches and synagogues, businesses and individuals have also registered for the walk. Participants can sign up to walk as part of a team, or as individuals.

In organizing the event, Shevitz has worked closely with board members at AFSP Wisconsin, including Wisconsin Area Director Gena Orlando. Orlando said the funds raised through the walk are used to sustain AFSP’s operations in Wisconsin, including research initiatives, education, outreach and support efforts.

While fundraising is an important aspect of the walk, Orlando said the event also works to build a community of individuals with a connection to the cause. She said being in a space with others who care about suicide prevention brings about strong feelings of comfort, support and connection.

“We often hear the phrase, ‘you are not alone,’” Orlando said. “And when you are at an Out of the Darkness Walk, those words really become reality. You’re able to, not only see it, but really feel that sense of connection and recognize that you’re not alone in this, and that there are many people who are in this community.”

Orlando said her favorite way connections are built at the walk is not through words, but through the use of honor beads, necklaces worn by walk participants. Each colored beaded necklace signifies an individual’s connection to the cause. Orlando said the necklaces are a “powerful source of connection.”

Beyond beads, all walkers carry their own personal connection to the walk, Shevitz said. She emphasized the power of coming together to support the cause, and how this can strengthen the greater community.

“Everyone that’ll be there on that day is carrying something with them,” Shevitz said. “When we carry things, it makes us more empathetic.”

Shevitz hopes UW students attend the walk in some way — whether that be by participating or by volunteering. Last year, she knew she wanted to do the walk, but was scared to go alone, and hopes students who may feel similar to how she did know they will find a community by attending.

“I hope that the walk makes people feel less alone, and feel like they have a community in Madison that cares about changing the way we talk about mental health and suicide,” Shevitz said.

Registration for the 2024 UW Out of the Darkness Walk is available here.

Resources regarding suicide prevention and mental health:

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