Suicide prevention walk aims to bring light to those in need

Community members and students walked around campus as part of the “Be the Light” Suicide Prevention Awareness walk on Friday. The walk began and finished in the Pit, which was filled with balloons, glow sticks and gently used shoes to be donated to Club Nova Thrift Shop. 

The Orange County Health Department and Healthy Carolinians of Orange County organized the walk at UNC, hoping to gain support from the campus community. 

The shoes were placed in parallel lines in the center of the Pit, sparking the curiosity of many bystanders. Public Health educator Kiana Redd said the 62 pairs of shoes represent the 62 lives lost in Orange County due to suicide from 2011 to 2015.

“An empty pair of shoes brings a lot of attention. It represents an empty body — someone that could be standing in those shoes,” Redd said.

The name “Be the Light” is also representative of the cause. According to Redd, suicide is often attributed with darkness, causing people to shy away from the topic.

“Changing this mindset can bring inspiration and light to someone in need,” she said.

Ashley Rawlinson, coordinator of Healthy Carolinians of Orange County and organizer of the event, said the motivation for the walk began with the community health assessment that is conducted every four years.

In 2015, the top health priorities identified included mental health and substance abuse, physical activity and nutrition and access to healthcare.

“Under mental health and substance abuse, suicide was an issue of concern for residents as something that we needed to address,” Rawlinson said.

She said along with bringing awareness to the issue, the walk was designed to celebrate those who survive.

“This is something that is preventable and that we can all play a part in,” Rawlinson said.

Sophomore Alexandra Smith, said she found out about the walk from an email from UNC Healthy Heels, UNC’s collaboration organization between Campus Health, Student Wellness and Counseling and Psychological Services.

“I saw that September was suicide-awareness month and thought I would come out to support,” Smith said. “Suicide is seen as a taboo subject and that sucks. I think this is a really good way to start dialogues on campus and within communities.”

Sophomore Christian Lutz said society often wrongly places the cause of suicide on the individual, ignoring the surrounding factors. 

“Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety disorders, can lead to suicide, and we need to start being there for those people.”

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