‘No one ever has to walk alone’: Howard Hall hosts Walk for More Tomorrows to advocate for mental health awareness, suicide prevention
Evan McKenna | Friday, April 30, 2021
Thursday afternoon, a folding table outside of South Dining Hall was covered in yellow. Yellow pamphlets, advertising mental health resources and advocacy groups. Yellow ribbons, complete with safety pins, for students to affix to their shirts. Yellow rubber wristbands, displaying the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s phone number and the words “U R Not Alone.”
Most eye-catching, however, was the large yellow banner laid across the table, sporting hundreds of signatures from tri-campus students in support of mental health awareness.
This splash of yellow was part of Howard Hall’s annual “Walk for More Tomorrows,” a mental health advocacy and suicide prevention event spanning the week of April 26.
The event began on Monday, with a panel on the intersectionality of mental health in Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium. The panel featured assistant director of the Multicultural Student Programs and Services Paige Jackson, University Counseling Center (UCC) associate director and psychologist Mauren Lafferty, junior Michelle Sobolewski and first-year Dane Sherman.
Walk for More Tomorrows co-commissioner Uyen Le, who moderated the panel, commented on the panel’s openness and educational value.
“I think we had a very wholesome conversation,” Le said. “It was very casual, and I think the panelists were … giving really insightful stories and also advice for people to be active listeners and active allies for people who are suffering from mental illness and suicidal thoughts.”
(Editor’s Note: Le is the leader of the Observer’s From the Archives project.)
On Thursday, the event’s organizers and tri-campus mental health advocates reconvened for the week’s final and titular event — as co-commissioners Le and first-year Meg Beuter raised the yellow banner and led attendees on a march across campus.
The march concluded at the Grotto, where Le and Beuter led an interreligious prayer service dedicated to students with mental health issues.
Before the service began, both Beuter and Le made opening remarks to attendees. Beuter began, addressing the purpose of the service as well as the stigma the event attempts to overcome.
“We’re gathered here today to acknowledge the profound impact that issues surrounding mental health and suicide have on our lives,” Beuter said. “Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, we often do not realize how many lives are affected and lost.”
Le addressed the severity of the mental health crisis across college campuses in particular, also acknowledging the intersectionality of the issue.
“According to a 2015 study, one-fifth of college students surveyed had suicidal thoughts, with 9% having reported attempted suicide and almost 20% reporting self-harm,” Le said. “It has also been shown that students of color and students in the LGBTQ community are disproportionately affected by mental illness and suicide.”
As the service began, junior Bella Niforatos, a member of the event’s spiritual committee, recited the “Mi Shebeirach,” a Jewish prayer of healing. The prayer is typically read for those who are physically ill, but Niforatos dedicated the words to “all who suffer from mental illness or have thoughts of suicide.”
After a Christian prayer of supplication and a recitation of the Lord’s prayer, Le concluded the service with a message of hope and healing.
“Please know that if you are struggling, there are resources available on campus, and we are here for you,” Le said. “Remember that you are never going through this alone. Thank you for walking in solidarity and remembrance with us today.”
Students were then invited into the Grotto, where attendees offered up prayers to friends and family members affected by mental health issues.
Following the prayer service, Niforatos explained why she and the rest of the event’s organizers had opted for an interreligious program.
“I wanted to make sure that it was accessible for everyone,” Niforatos said. “It’s really important to know that despite your faith tradition or whatever background you’re coming from, that it’s all about community — no matter what separates us, it’s about creating a space where we’re unified.”
As the week’s programming came to a close at a fellowship dinner outside of Howard Hall, Beuter commented on the event’s goal of increased awareness and commended those brave enough to speak up about their own mental health.
“I want people to know that speaking out takes a lot of courage, and that’s why we do it,” Beuter said. “And we say ‘I’m courageous because I asked for help — I’m not weak because of that.’”
But mental health advocacy must extend beyond awareness, Le said — that’s why all of the event’s proceeds are going to the United Health Services’ Suicide Prevention Center.
“I think more money should be dedicated to efforts to support people with mental health issues, especially on college campuses,” Uyen said. “There are not enough funds allocated to those causes.”
Le recalled a particularly enlightening moment from Monday’s panel, in which Dr. Lafferty called upon the University to increase their financial support of the UCC, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has left many mental healthcare clinics short on staff and tight on funds.
Reflecting upon the week, Le emphasized the central purpose of Walk for More Tomorrows: destigmatization through unity.
“I really believe that our message is that no one ever has to walk alone in this struggle with mental health, and also that we need to talk about it more,” Le said. “We need to normalize saying ‘I had a really bad day,’ We need to normalize saying ‘I went to the doctor to get my mental health checked out.’ Because why does mental health have to be so different than physical health?”