Walking for Hope and Change

More than 200 people raised over $30,000 in the 11th Annual Greater Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk on September 9 organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.

2023 Out of the Darkness Walk at Myers Park

The walk, which took place in Meyers Park in Lansing on the edge of Cayuga Lake, is among 400 held across the country every year designed to raise awareness and collect funds for research, training, and programming.

This year’s Greater Ithaca walk was held during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Walkers included many people who lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.

L³ Lisa’s Lagomorph Legion was the top fundraising team this year, collecting $6,285. Team Hope brought in $3,507; Jack’s Pack $2,377; Team 22 $1,150; and CFCU Standing with Stacy $1,110.

To add a donation to AFSP, click here

“Our mission, to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, would not be possible without each of you,” Crystal Howser, the walk chair, said in remarks kicking off the event.

Howser said that she volunteers with AFSP to remember and honor the memory of her father, Jerry Howser, and the many others who lost their battle to depression and other mental illnesses. 

“We strive to be a source of strength for our community and let everyone know they are not alone,” she added. “On this journey, strangers turn into friends and friends turn into family as we connect with one another and navigate through our grief. Together, we are strong. Together, we are making a difference.”

AFSP’s Cheyanne Scholl, Crystal Howser, and Karen Heisig

Dave Ashton, morning host on Ithaca’s WYXL-FM, said that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States and can no longer be swept under the rug.

“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. Suicide is a health issue that affects all of us,” he said.

Scott MacLeod, co-founder of The Sophie Fund, a mental health advocacy organization in Ithaca, said that the most recent statistics indicate a 5 percent increase in the national suicide rate in 2021 and 2.6 percent increase in 2022.

But he cited contributions to greater local suicide prevention efforts, by AFSP as well as the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cayuga Health System, and others. He said that medical providers are working toward implementing the Zero Suicide Model, a quality improvement program designed to more effectively identify at-risk individuals and close gaps in in their care management.

The 2023 walk was sponsored by:

CFCU Community Credit Union; The Strebel Planning Group’s Fund for Community Enrichment; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Maguire Automotive; Borgwarner; Pizza and Bones; Lansing Funeral Home; Ithaca Beer Company; Texas Roadhouse; Moore Family Farm; Cayuga Health System; Visions Federal Credit Union; Lansing Redemption Center; Cayuga Lake National Bank; Tioga State Bank Foundation; Ithaca Apartment Management/Solomon Organization; Antlers Restaurant; GreenStar Food Co+op.

We Can Prevent Suicide Deaths Together

Despite increasing openness about mental illness amid efforts to fight stigma, suicide remains a taboo word. Many people experience suicidal thoughts, but keep that to themselves. However, suicide deaths are preventable, and many recent advances enable us to better prevent them.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an opportunity for all of us to learn more about mental illness, suicide, and what we can do to help those who may be struggling. It is a time to redouble efforts to break down the stigma that too often holds us back.

The recent advances include better screening tools for identifying people at risk of suicide, improved care management protocols, upgraded crisis response measures, and suicide-specific therapy treatment. Another advance is the introduction last year of the 9-8-8 hotline number to support people experiencing a mental health crisis.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. You can also call 988 if you are concerned about a loved one, friend, or colleague. Veterans and/or their loved ones and friends can call 988 and then press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

988 calls go to into a nearby crisis center, one of 200 across the country. When people call or text 988, or connect to chat online, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the Lifeline network. Trained counselors listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.

The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Calls and texts to the Lifeline soared 33 percent since the simpler 988 number was introduced in July 2022.

According to KFF (formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation), in its first 11 months of operation 988 received nearly 4 million contacts, including 740,000 chats and more than 600,000 texts; an additional 1 million connections were made to the Veteran’s Crisis Line.

Ithaca’s 54-year-old Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service has long been part of the Lifeline network. Besides connecting through 9-8-8, its trained counselors can also be reached by dialing 607-272-1616.

The Lifeline has been proven to be effective. According to its administrator, numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor. 

The Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health. SAMSHA provides a Partner Toolkit to help promote the 988 number and other suicide prevention services.

The latest statistics released last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control serve as a reminder of America’s mental health crisis.

After declining in 2019 and 2020, suicide deaths increased approximately 5 percent in the United States in 2021. Provisional estimates now indicate that suicide deaths further increased by 2.6 percent in 2022, according to the CDC. One encouraging indicator in the provisional data was that suicide deaths of people aged 10-24 declined by 8.4 percent.

Overall, suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in the past two decades.

The latest figures underscore “the depths of the devastating mental health crisis in America,” according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another. If you or a loved one are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please know that your life matters and that you are not alone.”

Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. You may save a life.

According to AFSP, something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.

Warning sign: Talk

If a person talks about:

Killing themselves

Feeling hopeless

Having no reason to live

Being a burden to others

Feeling trapped

Unbearable pain

Warning sign: Behavior

Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods

Withdrawing from activities

Isolating from family and friends

Sleeping too much or too little

Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Giving away prized possessions



Warning sign: Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:



Loss of interest




Relief/Sudden Improvement

For local, state, and national resources, visit The Sophie Fund’s suicide prevention page.

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

Zero Suicide Model Expert to Tompkins Healthcare: “The Time is Now”

A top expert urged Tompkins County healthcare leaders on August 9 to pursue implementation of the Zero Suicide Model, a framework designed to prevent suicide deaths by closing gaps in the care provided by healthcare systems.

Brian Ahmedani, suicide prevention expert at the Henry Ford Health System

Brian Ahmedani, director of the Center for Health Policy & Health Services Research at the Henry Ford Health System, said Zero Suicide has proved to be highly effective in Henry Ford’s pioneering work on the model over the past two decades. During a period between 2008 and 2010, he said, not a single Henry Ford behavioral health patient died by suicide.

Citing the continuing rise in the U.S. suicide rate in the past 20 years, Ahmedani said research now shows that healthcare systems can play an important role in reversing that trend..

 “We need to do something about this, and the time is now,” he said. “So your charge is to map out a perfect system of care, develop processes and policies that align with that perfect system of care, and figure out who is going do each part of that system of care.”

Ahmedani made his remarks in a presentation to the Tompkins County Zero Suicide Steering Committee, a group of healthcare leaders formed in 2022 to work on implementing the model within and across healthcare systems serving the community. The presentation was sponsored by The Sophie Fund.

Ahmedani explained that the Zero Suicide model for healthcare as well as behavioral health settings entails patient screening, risk assessment, and care coordination.

It starts with systematic screening of all patients using evidence-based tools to determine if they have any suicide risk. If a patient screens positive, then a risk assessment is conducted to determine the onward care that is aligned with their level of risk. Zero Suicide calls for care coordination to avoid system gaps, and for the use of evidence-based treatments for suicidality such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Ahmedani said that the model calls for the provider and an at-risk patient together to develop a safety plan, a quick guide to help in a crisis that includes their personal warning signs, coping strategies, emergency contacts, and reminders of how to stay safe away from lethal means. Just the safety plan along with a follow-up caring contact message with a patient reduces suicide risk by 20 percent, he said.

“When somebody has suicidal ideation, it’s sort of like having paralysis of your brain, your body shuts down and it can only think of this escape pathway. So if you have a rehearsed plan, they know what they can do instead. If they don’t have a plan, that’s when they continue to get stuck in this this fixation when this intense wave of wanting to hurt yourself comes over your brain and takes over,” he said.

Explaining Zero Suicide’s inclusion of healthcare settings, Ahmedani noted that until 2012 conventional wisdom felt that suicide prevention was a mission left to the behavioral health field.

But he said that research indicates that more than 83 percent of people who died by suicide had made some type of healthcare visit in the weeks and months prior to their death; 92 percent of people making a suicide attempt had seen a healthcare provider very recently. Moreover, he added, studies now show that more than half of the people who die by suicide had no mental health diagnosis.

“That means they’ve never received psychotherapy, they’ve never come in for a suicide attempt in the past, there is no evidence of mental health diagnosis in their entire clinical history,” Ahmedani said.

“What that means is that we need different approaches for suicide prevention. We can’t just rely on waiting for someone to get a mental health diagnosis before we think about suicide prevention. Most people are connecting with healthcare systems before they’re dying. They’re right in front of us.”

Ahmedani said that primary care practices are an important setting for identifying people at risk who may never have sought mental health treatment.

“Most people are actually going to primary care before they’re dying by suicide. If we don’t do anything in primary care, we won’t be able to reach the vast majority of people who are right in front of us before they’re dying by suicide.”

Ahmedani said that behavioral health settings continue to be critical for preventing suicide, because patients with a mental health diagnosis are already known to be at an elevated risk. “But even if we provided perfect care in behavioral health, we could only reach about one third of the people who are dying by suicide,” he said.

Another argument for all healthcare settings also playing a role, Ahmedani said, is a realization that suicidality is not a symptom of a disease like depression but is actually its own disease that needs to be identified and treated as a comorbid condition.

“We really need to think more broadly than that it’s just some symptom of depression or symptom of substance use or symptom of something else, and that if we treat that thing then the suicide risk will go away. We actually have to treat those things concurrently. Both things need to be treated,” he said.

Ahmedani said that unlike longstanding strides to prevent cardiovascular disease, most of the effective interventions outlined in the Zero Suicide Model have only been developed by Henry Ford and others over the past two decades.

“The interventions really haven’t penetrated healthcare systems in the way that other disease treatments have,” he said. “But we have an opportunity to do that now. So I’m really encouraging us to think about how we can take advantage of it,” he said.

“This program is set up perfectly to structure within a healthcare system using pragmatic approaches and interventions that fit within healthcare so they don’t overburden the resources and staffing and all the costs. It  is designed to work effectively in your program.”

Ahmedani stressed the importance of creating a healthcare system team to lead implementation of Zero Suicide, as they did in pioneering the model at Henry Ford.

“Our major recommendation is that you start and launch these services with a team of people that can represent the different perspectives in your healthcare system,” he said. Henry Ford’s team included system leadership, clinicians from different levels, and patients “so that we could really design a system of care that works for everybody,” he said.

Creating system teamwork to prevent suicide deaths removes a burden of responsibility from “the individual heroic clinician who works 24 hours a day, seven days a week trying to stay up and do all these things,” he said. “If we work as a team, we can reduce burnout, we can be more effective, and we can deliver services that end up leading downstream to a better result in preventing suicide.”

Ahmedani said that after implementing Zero Suicide’s quality care process improvements, Henry Ford saw a 75-80 percent reduction in suicide deaths among behavioral health patients within the first year. He said that reduction would then be sustained for more than 22 years even as the U.S. and Michigan suicide rates continued to climb; during an 18-month period from 2008-2010, no behavioral health patients died by suicide.

“Without doing all these things, people fall through the cracks. People aren’t identified, they see multiple providers most of the time, they interact with our healthcare system in lots of different ways, and we don’t figure out who they are. If we do each of those processes, people don’t fall through the cracks,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of data that show that this program works not only at Henry Ford but it works at a lot of different health care systems. The goal of Zero Suicide is that, instead of thinking that suicide is inevitable like we used to, we’re now thinking suicides are preventable.”

To the surprise of many, Ahmedani said, Henry Ford increased its behavioral health revenue eight-fold after implementing Zero Suicide by reformatting and restructuring the way that it provides care.

He said that medical practices utilizing collaborative care models are able to bill insurance for suicide prevention procedures like screening, risk assessment, and care coordination. He said Blue Cross in Michigan is leading a partnership with healthcare incentivizing or paying for suicide prevention procedures.

Ahmedani said about 50,000 people die by suicide in the United States each year but that the scope of the problem is even bigger. He said 2 million people in the U.S. make a suicide attempt every year, and 15 million are thinking about suicide at some point in the year.

“So we’re talking about somewhere between 4-5 percent of the U.S. general population who are affected by suicide during a year. That’s a lot of people,” he said.

He said that suicide is the only one of the 15 leading causes of death in the United States whose annual rate has been increasing. The annual rate increased 25-30 percent over the past two decades, he said.

Ahmedani said that a significant step forward occurred with the release of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, which drew on Henry Ford’s work and for the first time declared that suicide prevention should be a core component of healthcare services and not only behavioral health.

Afterwards, The Joint Commission, a leading healthcare accrediting body, issued recommendations for preventing suicide in healthcare settings and requirements for using the latest processes and intervention tools in behavioral health settings.

Ahmedani noted that some people in healthcare get “twitchy” about the seemingly unrealistic notion of aiming for zero suicide deaths. “The long-term aspirational goal is to prevent every suicide, but the operational goal is to implement a system of care that focuses on error reduction,” he explained.

He noted that “designing for zero” is a practice seen in many areas, such as surgical operating theaters, airline travel, automotive manufacturing, and nuclear power plants. Setting a goal of zero suicides maintains a focus on continuous quality improvement, he said, reducing the opportunity for complacency. “If we strive for any other number, then we aren’t moving towards the ultimate goal,” he said.

Ahmedani serves as chair of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Suicide Prevention Commission. Besides his work on Zero Suicide at Henry Ford, he is a principal investigator for a number of current clinical trials and studies around suicide and healthcare; one of them is evaluating the implementation of the Zero Suicide Model in various settings of six healthcare systems in five states serving 10 million patients a year.

The creation of the Steering Committee was a response to Goal 2 of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s Three-Year Strategic Plan 2022-2025 adopted in February 2022. One of Goal 2’s objectives is to “form a Zero Suicide Work Group comprised of leading health and mental health providers to share ideas, experiences, and challenges, and lead collaborative, sustainable efforts to implement the Zero Suicide Model throughout Tompkins County.”

On a Mental Health Mission to Support Others

Although public speaking is not her favorite thing, Sandra Sorensen, the new executive director of the Finger Lakes chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), took the microphone like a seasoned emcee, welcomed the organization’s supporters, and led them in a countdown for her first fundraising walk.

Sandra Sorensen

“Four! Three! Two! One! Yay! Let’s go, everybody!” she shouted. With that, a hundred or so folks filed between two tall pillars of blue and green balloons and began a trek under a clear-blue sky along Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca’s Cass Park.

The results from Sorensen’s first NAMIWalks event on May 6 were gratifying: 113 individuals and 16 teams collected more than $24,000, three times the organization’s goal of $8,000. Sorensen herself was the top fundraiser, bringing in $3,120 in donations. (Buoyant Punk was the leading fundraising team, with $5,100.)

To make a late DONATION, go to the NAMIWalks webpage here.

NAMIWalks in Cass Park

For all her enthusiasm, Sorensen’s initial connection with NAMI Finger Lakes, a decade ago, was not under the best of circumstances.

Her husband Michael was struggling with mental illness, but because of stigma he kept that to himself. A friend told Sorensen about NAMI’s Family to Family Program, a group where people can get support and learn how to best aid loved ones. Once a week, she would get the kids to bed, then sneak out to join the group’s meetings.

“It was something I had to do, but it had to be done in secret,” Sorensen recalled. “My husband kept this part of himself private. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I was surprised to learn that what I really needed was how to better take care of me so I could support him.”

“I felt supported and understood by all the others in the class going through similar things,” she added. “I no longer felt alone. I was, for the first time, able to share my story in a confidential, safe space. Nobody made any judgement on my husband, something he was so fearful about. There was no stigma, and no judgement. Only empathy and love.”

Walking for Mental Health

Michael’s story, like too many others, Sorensen shared, ended in tragedy. He died by suicide in 2021. As she and her five children grieved the loss and adapted to their new life, Sorensen decided she could use her experiences to help others, just as NAMI support group members had done for her. When the position at NAMI-FL opened up last year, she jumped at the opportunity.

NAMI is a national grassroots organization founded in 1979 and dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI-FL provides free support, education, and advocacy for people closest to those living with mental health conditions.

At NAMI-FL, Sorensen explained, it’s all about peer support. A NAMI-FL help line is staffed by volunteers with lived experience, helping callers feel heard and supported. The same goes for the Family to Family Program, which NAMI-FL offers as an eight-week class. Sorensen oversees NAMI-FL’s programs, with the goal of helping people facing similar situations to her own not feel alone. More projects are in the works.

Sorensen’s passion for mental health advocacy and nonprofit management is shaping a career journey she never expected. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 1995 with a degree in Polymer/Plastics Engineering, and worked in the field for six years before leaving to homeschool her children. Eventually, she took a bookkeeping job with a pregnancy crisis nonprofit, using skills she’d picked up from her husband’s construction business.

After volunteering to help with bookkeeping at Second Wind Cottages, she ended up staying on as the nonprofit’s first executive director.” “I was there through the pandemic, and it was disheartening to see how quickly the need for mental health care was escalating in the community and throughout the world,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen’s main goal as NAMI-FL executive director is to promote the organization’s services. She describes the challenge of reaching people who desperately need connections yet are unaware of NAMI-FL’s programs. “It’s a hard pill for me to swallow,” she said. “This supportive organization exists without many people knowing about it, but they should. No one deserves to feel lost in crisis.”

Support, Education, Advocacy

NAMI-FL board member Kathy Taylor, who likewise first became connected to NAMI when a family member was struggling, is thrilled to have Sorensen on board.

“Her passion for the mission of NAMI is clear,” Taylor said. “She has a true understanding of the burdens of mental illness, and she’s using her knowledge to destigmatize and advocate for all who struggle.”

Taylor supports Sorensen’s goal of raising NAMI-FL’s profile in the community. “We need to continue making connections with outside organizations, supporting each other the best we can, in order to help destigmatize mental illness all over. The more people that know about us and what we stand for, the more support we can offer.”

NAMI Finger Lakes volunteers Jason Hungerford and Melissa Lorah

Sorensen no longer tiptoes when leaving home for NAMI meetings. As the local chapter’s executive director, she is determined to spread the word about the organization’s support services to everyone within earshot and beyond. Judging from her NAMIWalks success, people are listening.

NAMI Finger Lakes help line can be reached at (607) 273-2462 or by email at namiflsupport@namifingerlakes.org.

—Lyndsey Honor

Lyndsey Honor, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a senior at Ithaca College, majoring in Writing and minoring in Honors, French, and Theatre. She is the managing editor of the school’s Stillwater Magazine and has written for the Ithaca Times.

Students Walk at Cornell University to Fight Suicide

Nearly 200 people traveled a collective total of 337 miles in the rain and raised $11,692.32 on April 30 in the first-ever Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention to take place on the Cornell University campus.

Cornell Swimming & Diving Team

Throngs with ponchos, umbrellas, yellow galoshes, or just getting soaked in an April shower, including Cornell fraternity brothers, the Swimming & Diving, Tennis, and Volleyball teams, among others in the Cornell community, trekked the two-mile route from Corson-Mudd Hall, to the College of Veterinary Medicine, Feeney Way, and back again.

“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health,” said chief organizer Cheyanne Scholl during an opening ceremony inside the Corson-Mudd atrium.

“You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that the issue of suicide cannot and will not be kept in the darkness. And thanks to you, we remain hopeful.”

More than 500 Out of the Darkness walks are held across the country each year by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to raise awareness, collect research funds, and send a message that “suicide is preventable and no one is alone.” In 2022, Overnight, Community, and Campus walks raised more than $21 million.

Among the participants in the Cornell walk were 14 campus fundraising teams, with Team Malibu raising the most funds, $1,450. Other top teams included SCL-TCOB, Cornell Vet, Alpha Gamma Rho, and The Statler Hotel. Skye Krehbiel was the top individual fundraiser with $1,210, and Michelle Moyal was second with $698.02.

Local businesses also supported the walk with donations, including Wegmans Panera Bread, Mirabito, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, Big Red Barbershop, and Cornell University.

Stacy Ayres and Crystal Howser of AFSP, and Co-Chair Cheyanne Scholl

In her remarks, Scholl explained that she has been involved with AFSP since 2017, when she participated in a walk at Iowa State University to honor a very close high school friend, Jack, a student there who had recently died by suicide. She was a first-year student at the time, and she recalled how “my life flipped on me” as she grieved Jack’s death.

“As a new college student experiencing such a tremendous loss, I was very lost and did not know where to turn,” she said. “The support and help I received from everyone around me was incredibly helpful. I learned that it is okay to reach out when you need help, you are not alone.”

Want to get involved? AFSP Greater Central New York will host a Greater Ithaca Walk on September 9, 2023. Click here to register or donate. To volunteer with AFSP, click here.

When Scholl moved to Ithaca from Iowa last summer to start a new job at Cornell, she spent part of the 16-hour car ride researching the local AFSP chapter determined to explore holding a Cornell walk. Backed by AFSP Greater Central New York, Scholl and a team of Cornell students and staff members including Scholl’s co-chair Daniel Richter spent months organizing the event on the sprawling campus.

Alpha Gamma Rho

Also speaking at the event was Kathleen Stathopoulos, whose son Yiannis ’24, a third-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student in the College of Veterinary Medicine, died by suicide last summer. He was president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, and worked at an animal hospital. Stathopoulos shared that Yiannis was a mental health advocate who sought to reduce the high suicide rate among vet school students.

Stathopoulos said her son was known for his self-assurance. The 24-year-old was an avid body builder who loved to ski, golf, fly his drone, ride his motorcycle, and attend Mets games. “Yianni, above everything, loved his family,” she said. In the weeks before he died, he had rescued two kittens and a rabbit and nurtured them back to health. Yiannis’s death, she said, seemed to come out of the blue.

“Yianni was active, he was engaged, he was involved,” Stathopoulos recalled. “He was a person who was alive. He smiled an infectious smile. I had no idea that Yianni had any kind of suicidal thoughts. His family had no idea, the closest of his friends, his teachers and administrators, they had no idea. Everybody was shocked.”

She added: “When they came to Yianni’s memorial in Brooklyn, people said, ‘Yianni? Not Yianni. Yianni had it all. He was living the dream. How did this happen?’ But it did happen.”

Stathopoulos said that while Yiannis projected strength, he appears to have been very good at hiding behind that image. “How could a person who’s looked at like a Greek god, so confident, now say to people, ‘I’m having a problem. I feel like I might do something to myself.’ That would be shattering the image. Yianni had that image and protected it. If Yianni could have just realized it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness is just like any other illness. It’s not a character flaw.”

Yiannis’s mother urged the students participating in the walk to seek mental health support if they are struggling. “If there’s anyone out there thinking that something’s wrong, if that bully in the brain is telling you you’re not good, fight it, tell somebody, tell a professional, tell a friend, tell a loved one. Talk to somebody. It will help.”

Another speaker was Scott MacLeod, whose daughter Sophie ’14, a senior in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, died by suicide in 2016 at age 23 while on a health leave of absence from Cornell. MacLeod described how his family and friends established The Sophie Fund in Ithaca to advocate for improved mental health support for young people, including students at Cornell and other local campuses.

Why We Walk

Some of the comments written on the Cornell walk’s “Why We Walk” banner:

“All our loved ones we have lost, and to those who keep fighting each day. You matter and are not alone. My Dad, my hero.”

“For Sam, my best friend.”

“For the Czymmek family and in the loving memory of Will. We are still here for you.”

“For Chris. You are loved!”

“For Greg and his family, and everyone who struggles.”

“For all the student athletes and those struggling.”

“For my mom’s struggle.”

“For my brother Kyle, and all those who suffer.”

“For my trans siblings, I love you.”

“For Dong Hao.”

“Never stop fighting!”

Laurie Conlon, Jessica Withers, and Co-Chair Daniel Richter

Cornell Women’s Volleyball Team

Carolina Baquerizo, Alayzha Turner-Rodgers, and Hannah Van Bergen of the College of Veterinary Medicine

Hope Walks Here

Honor Beads

Have a Real Conversation

Hope Walks Here

Cornell walkers raised $11,692.32 for AFSP educational programming and research

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.