Some 300 participants raised more than $60,000 in the 10th Annual Greater Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk on September 10 organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.
Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk at Myers Park
The walk, which took place in Myers Park in Lansing on the edge of Cayuga Lake, is among 400 or so held across the country every year designed to raise awareness and collect funds for research, training, and programming. The walkers included many people who lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.
This year’s Greater Ithaca walk was held on World Suicide Prevention Day. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The event surpassed the chapter’s $55,000 goal by more than $5,000.
“Suicide is preventable, and suicide prevention begins with all of us,” event Co-Chair Crystal Howser said in remarks at the event.
“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health,” she added. “You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that suicide can no longer be swept under the rug.
“By showing up, you let others know they are not alone. Because of you, we can fight for a day when no one will die by suicide.”
Event Co-Chairs Crystal Howser and Amber Parker
Howser shared that she began her journey after losing her father to suicide in 1998, and has lost other loved ones since then.
“These are just a few of the reasons I will continue to fight, to give a voice to those that may have lost their own, to help those that have lost a loved one heal, and bring hope to each and every person I meet along the way,” Howser said.
She said that the walkers honored the memory of those lost to suicide. “I also want to acknowledge those of you who have suffered personally from suicidal thoughts,” she added. “We are so glad to have you here with us in this fight. Your presence and openness allow others to know they are not alone in their struggle.”
This year’s walk included teams from Maguire Automotive, Alpha Gamma Rho at Cornell University, Ithaca College Women’s Lacrosse, SVNTA National Honor Society, CrossFit Vertical, among others.
The walk was sponsored by:
CFCU Community Credit Union; The Strebel Planning Group’s Strebel Fund for Community Enrichment; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Maguire Automotive; BorgWarner Inc.; Northeast Pizza and Bones; Ithaca Apartment Management/Solomon Organization LLC; Moore Family Farm; Cayuga Medical Center; Visions Federal Credit Union; Lansing Funeral Home; Cayuga Lake National Bank; Tioga State Bank Foundation; and Ongweoweh Corp.
What a turnout it was on September 18 for the Greater Ithaca “Out of the Darkness” Walk in Myers Park in Lansing! Fundraising teams and individuals collected more than $45,000 to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Ithaca College Bombers Women’s Lacrosse
The annual event, organized by the AFSP’s Greater Central New York Chapter and co-chaired by Crystal Howser and Amber Parker, helps the foundation invest in life-saving research, education, advocacy, and support for those impacted by suicide. The walk included teams from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Ithaca College Bombers Women’s Lacrosse squad.
In opening remarks, Crystal Howser thanked the throng of walkers who participated:
“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that suicide can no longer be swept under the rug.
“By showing up, you let others know they are not alone. Because of you, we can fight for a day when no one will die by suicide.
“By walking with us, you honor the memory of the loved ones we’ve lost.I also want to acknowledge those of you who have suffered personally from suicidal thoughts. We are so glad to have you here with us in this fight. Your presence and openness allow others to know they are not alone in their struggle.
“Together, we are strong, together we are making a difference. Our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide would not be possible without each of you.”
The Sophie Fund is honored and proud to support the Out of the Darkness Greater Ithaca Walk, a special event that provides community, connection, healing, and hope for survivors of suicide loss and those with lived experience. September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
Please consider registering for and/or donating to the September 18 Ithaca Walk in Myers Park. You will join a strong community united in an effort to fight suicide while showing up for yourself, recognizing and honoring those you love, raising awareness, educating communities, supporting one another, and sharing hope.
The Ithaca Walk is organized by The Sophie Fund’s esteemed colleagues and dear friends at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.
Every dollar raised in this event enables AFSP to invest in life-saving research, education, advocacy, and support for those impacted by suicide.
(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation About Mental Health is a new anthology that aims to get young people opening up about their inner struggles. Editor Kelly Jensen collected personal mental health stories from a range of writers, including Shaun David Hutchinson, Libba Bray, Adam Silvera, and Kristen Bell. “Jensen brought together sharp and vivid perspectives concerning mental-health challenges,” commented the Washington Post. “This book asks questions and provides real-life experiences and hope for the future.”
KELLY JENSEN: I started by wanting to do an anthology on feminism. I put that together and it came out in early 2017. I’ve always struggled with my own mental health, so this is something that’s always sort of been in the back of my head. There was an essay in the feminism book about mental health, and I realized as I was reading—“Oh, there’s a whole book here.”
I had studied writing and psychology in college, and it sort of blended the two. I realized there’s nothing out there that talks about mental health for younger readers in a way that’s conversational rather than statistical. Statistics and numbers are important, but I know what was helpful for me was reading people’s narratives and hearing these stories about what they’ve done and how they’ve experienced their mental challenges. I wanted to compile as much as I could from a wide range of voices to show there’s no “one way.” That was sort of the way it came together. I proposed it to my editor of the feminist one and they were like, “Yes! Let’s do this.”
THE SOPHIE FUND:What was the process of gathering all of these stories?
KELLY JENSEN: My day job is working as an editor for a book website, so I read a lot and have a lot of contacts for people who write. I reached out to some people who I knew had written about their mental health experiences in some capacity, rather than reaching out to any author and asking, “Do you want to talk about this super personal thing?” These people had talked about it before, so there was some level of understanding of what that would be like. It’s not easy and it’s not fun.
And then from there, I expanded to look outside the writing world because mental health impacts all kinds of people. I did some research to find some pieces that were out there already and went to see if I could reprint some of them. There’s a piece in there from Reid Ewing who’s on Modern Family. He had this brilliant piece about body dysmorphic disorder and being addicted to plastic surgery.
Then there were a couple pieces that were fresh. One of the other contributors had a contact with someone in the music industry, so MILCK (who wrote the anthem for the Women’s March) wrote this brilliant piece that was a letter to her 14-year-old self about confidence but also about her struggles with anxiety and eating disorders. It was essentially a beautiful love letter to get through it. And then there’s a piece in there, too, from Nancy Kerrigan. She wrote this piece on believing in yourself and the ways she has found confidence in herself. And I was like, “Oh this is perfect,” especially thinking about 13- and 14-year-olds who are still figuring it out. I was just grateful she could put something like that in.
The biggest challenge was putting the pieces in an order that made any sort of sense. With the feminism book, there were some clear themes that emerged throughout, but with mental health there was not a great theme that worked, and trying to create a theme didn’t feel right. I want everyone to go into the book and get what they get out of it and not have me as an editor tell them what they should be getting. The big theme I found going through was finding this spot of being okay. Maybe not great. Maybe not bad. But right in that middle of being okay. When I found that as sort of the way of piecing it together, I also found a way of grouping the essays together.
THE SOPHIE FUND:I know the book is a little multimedia with some art pieces. Was that your intention from the beginning or did it come after the fact?
KELLY JENSEN: I knew I wanted to do it a like a scrapbook style, so I knew I would end up using art. There are so many ways to tell a story, and with such a range of experiences, art just feels like a natural way of getting there.
I wanted it to be a book people would want to look at rather than a textbook. I mean there’s heavy stuff in there, but I don’t want to people to feel like they’re going to be miserable reading it. And yeah it’s challenging to read at times, but I think the comics and the design my publishers put behind it really makes it a more enjoyable reading experience.
THE SOPHIE FUND:The invitational aspect of the book seems to mirror this idea of normalizing the conversation around mental health, and I’m wondering as the book has become a part of the world, how it has become a part of that conversation?
KELLY JENSEN: The book came out a little over a month ago, and I’ve been going nonstop since. It’s been really interesting because it’s forced me to think about my own experiences in a way I never thought I would.
I have done a bunch of high school events with hundreds of hundreds of kids, which has been awesome. A lot of them ask me things like, “How do I determine if it’s stress versus an actual problem?” It’s nice to sit down with somebody and say okay the fact that you’re even asking this is step one and that’s when you can talk to someone you trust and say, “Okay here’s what I am experiencing—what do you think?”
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what I think society-wise is causing this. In part mental illness stems from culture, but it’s also biological and just happens. There’s not any set reason. Often someone asks that because they have a theory, and sometimes you just have to say that could be part of it, but there’s no one cause, just like there’s no one treatment or course to fix anybody.
It changes community by community, too. I did an event at the beginning of October in a fairly conservative community in Wisconsin, but they have a whole commission that is focused on mental health and so the conversation in their community it not new or fresh. They’ve been having it. It’s interesting to go and talk to those kids and hear their questions and then go to a school where that’s not the case, and they have very different questions like, “How do we break the stigma? How do we talk about this?” It’s fascinating.
If the conversation is normalized, if it’s a conversation that’s happening, it’s easier to then talk about versus if it’s not talked about at all you don’t even have the language to start.
THE SOPHIE FUND: It seems like access to language is a theme that comes out of these conversations. It seems so necessary for us to be able to differentiate between these different experiences.
KELLY JENSEN: I have a really complicated relationship with the word crazy because sometimes well-meaning people can say they’re not going to use that word because of what it can stand for. But they stop there. They don’t take it further and have a conversation about mental health or do something that could further their sense of mental health care. I get annoyed because that doesn’t solve the problem, it just removes the word from your language, and ultimately from you having to think about it or stop and consider the bigger implications of the word. There’s not one way to talk about your approach to mental health, but you have to talk about it to even to get to that point where you can even discuss these nuances.
THE SOPHIE FUND:I know it’s only been out for a month, but what was your vision for the impact?
KELLY JENSEN: The school district that I talked about earlier who brought me in had community reads. They bought hundreds of copies of the book that they could distribute to students and adults in the community. They ran a number of book clubs throughout the month. They did all kinds of events centered around mental health, and they used this book because the pieces were short and persona. If more communities were able to create this culture of communication and openness, and have it come from the community itself, it trickles down. Then kids know they have permission.
I would love to see more people using it as tool to start talking, even it’s only one or two pieces and that’s all that resonates or all they use, that still gets the conversation starting.
THE SOPHIE FUND: I think there’s something to be said for having something that mediates the conversation and gives context so you aren’t starting from square one.
KELLY JENSEN: It’s a vulnerable conversation to have, too.
I was so excited when The Sophie Fund ask me to come here because what a cool opportunity to have stories take the center. I think if you start with other people’s narratives it does get easier to break into a conversation around it.
THE SOPHIE FUND: Do you have a mental health philosophy?
KELLY JENSEN: I don’t know if I have a mental health philosophy. I think I have a fascination with it. I think there’s value in being fascinated by what your mind does and what your experiences are, and the metanarrative about what you think about what you’re thinking, which is hard to think about it.
THE SOPHIE FUND:Do you have any other things that you’d like to talk about with the book or even just about your views on mental health in general?
KELLY JENSEN: Mental health is trial and error. There were a number of people who said to me it might take you forever to find a medication that works for you or might work for you for a little bit and then stop working. My experience was the first medication was perfect. Your personal experience might not mirror other’s advice.
The hard part of it all is if you try to hold this idea that every experience is valid and has the nuances that it does, it can just get overwhelming. Culturally we have defined what “normal” generally looks like, but most people don’t fall in that.
Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.
Describing depression to those who haven’t experienced it can be clumsy. The analogy I’ve found that best embodies my experience is “cloudy days.” The sun is still there but I’m unable to access that light. Instead, I’m cold and muted. Sometimes it’s cloudy for so long it’s hard to remember what the sun looks like. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the sun is there at all.
A sculpture from “Schism” representing Sophie Hack MacLeod
As someone who has battled depression for years and intimately understands the pain surrounding suicide and mental illness, I want my art to make a statement about this epidemic. Art is visceral and can describe an effect or experience in deeply powerful ways. This, and my drive to grow as an artist, pushed me to complete a minor in fine arts as an undergraduate at Cornell University.
My installation, “Schism,” is featured in Still I Rise, an exhibition curated by Laura Rowley with the work of 12 artists on view at the Tompkins County Public Library from July through September. “Schism” deals with the pain of losing loved ones to suicide, commenting on the profound hole the deaths leave behind. With rising mental health concerns among my generation, the ability to outwardly mourn for people who die by suicide is incredibly important along the path to healing.
Yes, suicide is a sensitive topic. No, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it. Treating suicide as a taboo topic not only stunts the healing process for suicide loss survivors, but teaches those plagued with suicidal thoughts that it’s something to be ashamed of, a weakness, which can deter them from seeking support. Open and empathetic conversation is critical to combat such tragedy.
“Schism” contains three sculptures. Each is a life-size, wooden silhouette of a suicide victim that is painted black with the best runner up to Vantablack commercially available, Black 2.0. It’s a special paint that is meant to absorb a higher percentage of light, creating the visual effect of “a schism in space.” This is meant to convey the loss felt when someone is a victim to suicide, to reveal the hole that remains in their physical shape in space they inhabited in life.
This installation is designed to represent loss of the individual, as each sculpture is a personalized and unique silhouette. Further, it is intrinsically connected to Ithaca as the individuals represented were all affiliated with the area: Sophie Hack MacLeod, 23, a Cornell fine arts major; Jason J. Seymour, 40, a Cornell systems analyst; and Alexander Joseph Reposh, 25, an Ithaca filmmaker and musician.
When someone is having suicidal thoughts, it’s far too easy to think, “I don’t matter, no one will even miss me, what’s the point? It’s suffocating.” I hope that “Schism” can be a reminder to those experiencing suicidal thoughts that your life is not trivial but is something to be cherished. “Schism” is also a symbol for those mourning a loved one and the horrific loss they must cope with.
—By Brianna Evans
Brianna Evans is a 2018 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. “Schism” was created as an independent study project supervised by Professor Roberto Bertoia of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. She wishes to thank The Sophie Fund, and the families of Sophie Hack MacLeod, Jason J. Seymour, and Alexander Joseph Reposh, for their support.