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Students raise money for suicide prevention

Marisa Iati | Monday, September 26, 2011

Notre Dame students raised more than $3,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Saturday by participating in South Bend’s first “Out of the Darkness” community walk, a representative from Notre Dame’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-ND) said.

The “Out of the Darkness” walk, which is held each year across the country, helps to fund AFSP’s efforts with research, education, advocacy and prevention initiatives to reduce suicides.

NAMI-ND organized a team of 22 students to participate in the three-mile walk, which took place in South Bend’s Howard Park Saturday morning.

NAMI-ND vice president Clare Burke, a sophomore, said the walk was an emotional, inspiring experience.

“I think that the walk was significant because it’s sort of representative of being part of something greater than yourself,” she said. “It’s cliché to say you can make a difference, but it really is being part of something bigger than yourself when you see everybody walking for the same cause.”

Several Saint Mary’s students walked as part of “Team Lizzy,” in honor of former classmate Lizzy Seeberg, Burke said.

Saint Mary’s first year Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide last September after alleging a Notre Dame football player sexually attacked her. Seeberg reported the alleged attack to Notre Dame Security Police about 10 days before her death. Following an NDSP investigation, the St. Joseph Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges.

The 200 people that participated in South Bend’s walk raised more than $15,000, sophomore

Alex Janiw, secretary of NAMI-ND, said.

“We had a table with honor beads and each bead represented a different reason for being there, and you start to realize that everybody is somehow connected to the cause,” Janiw said. “When everyone threw the carnation in the water was a really reflective time. It really hit home how important it was to be reflective of who’s been lost to suicide and how you can help in the future.”

Burke said participants walked along the St. Joseph River.

“We had a station that was on the water, a little dock where you can throw a carnation into the water to signify someone that you lost or just a memory or anything that’s special to you,” she said.

She said in order to register for a team, participants had to sign up online.

“You can raise money and the money goes towards research for suicide prevention,” she said. “The things [AFSP tries] to do are raise money for research, but also educate the public about how many people are suffering, what are the signs, how do you care for someone that’s lost someone.”

Burke said mental illness is often overlooked.

“People tend to look at it as not a real illness,” she said. “There are people suffering every day from depression and people need to start being aware of that.”

The main goal of NAMI-ND is to create an environment where talking about mental illness is accepted, Burke said.

“Nobody wants to bring it up, and I think after Sean Valero’s death and after Lizzy [Seeberg]’s death it sort of forced people to talk about it and it became obvious how uncomfortable everybody was,” she said.

Valero, then a sophomore, was found dead on March 31, 2010.

Laura Kaiser, a junior and the NAMI-ND treasurer, said the club hopes to bring Frank Warren, creator of PostSecret.com, to campus in March.

PostSecret.com is a website where individuals anonymously share secrets, many of which are related to suicide and mental illness.

Burke said NAMI-ND also aims to implement support groups at Notre Dame so students can talk about issues they’re struggling with.