Students gathered at Sweeney Field for the 9th annual Out of the Darkness Walk Nov. 12 to raise awareness about mental health.
The event was first organized in 2015 to honor a member of the St. Joe’s community who was lost to suicide, said Ronald Dufrense, Ph.D., chair of the management department and co-director of the Dean’s Leadership Program, which hosted the walk.
Out of the Darkness community walks were first started by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2004 to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. St. Joe’s first began hosting its own walk in 2015 when Mariah Hugh ’16 decided it was a way to open a conversation about mental health on campus after.
The St. Joe’s Out of the Darkness Walk is partnered with Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that supports mental health awareness and education for young adults.
According to Active Minds, 39% of students in college experience a significant mental health issue, and 67% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 who have anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment.
Co-chairs Nicoletta Viscione ’24 and Kaleigh Cadogan ’24 said the walk has raised $4,987 for Active Minds this year.
“With Active Minds, we give our money to them and they do great work for mental health awareness…it’s so amazing, their support and [showing] the world it’s okay to not be okay,” Cadogan said.
The title “Out of the Darkness” holds a literal meaning as students walk through campus, which is lit by fake candles, at dusk. However, Viscione said the title also holds a symbolic meaning.
“We do it as a symbolism for you to come out of the darkness – that is, your own negative thoughts,” Viscione said. “And it’s just the promise of a brighter tomorrow, a brighter future and a brighter standing with your peers, having that support system within your community and advocating for yourself.”
Alex DePaoli ’25, a speaker at the event, reflected on her own experiences and conversations with friends and professionals and how they can help others.
“I think there’s a consensus among college students that mental health is important,” DePaoli said. “But what do you do? If you stop there, how can you actually cause a change in somebody else’s life? By being an active listener, by being there for somebody else, by being able to pick up on these cues that other people are giving to you, whether they’re subliminal or explicit, that’s a practical way that you can help somebody make a difference.”
Nick Farell ’24, another speaker at the event, emphasized how being selfish with mental health can sometimes be the best thing to do.
“My speech is about, ironically, people being more selfish about their mental health and taking some time to reflect about them and the people in their lives who can help them when they might be sinking,” Farrell said.
Liang Ren ’25, a student who has been attending Out of the Darkness community walks since high school, believes the walk is a way for the St. Joe’s community to get together and spread love and awareness.
“It’s important to spread that community, spread that love, to spread that message of ‘you matter,’ of being kind to others and to be kind to your mind,” Ren said. “In order to perpetuate and continue that ideal, it’s important to get out here, attend and be a part of this wonderful community.”