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Slippery Rock University walks out of darkness for suicide prevention

Event chair Kaycie Baker, left, and volunteer Cassie Catrain carry a banner and lead the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

SLIPPERY ROCK — Cassie Catrain had a personal reason to go to Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. His name was Dylan.

“He went to high school with me. I grew up with him, and he took his life from suicide a couple of years ago,” Catrain said.

Catrain, along with dozens of students, volunteers and others, took part in the “Out of the Darkness” walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday. This is one of a series of “Out of the Darkness” walks organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which take place at colleges and universities across the United States.

“There's campus walks on many campuses, and then we also have them in different counties,” said AFSP volunteer Katie Defiglio. “We have the ‘Out of the Darkness’ walk for Pittsburgh in September. But campuses like to have these also, to raise money for suicide prevention.”

According to event chair Kaycie Baker, between 65 and 70 people signed up to take part in the walk just before 11 a.m. The route of the walk took participants on a two-mile tour of the Slippery Rock campus.

Registration to take part in the walk was free, but participants and others were encouraged to donate to the AFSP and their efforts to prevent suicide in young adults. By Sunday afternoon, the Slippery Rock event had raised $3,438.

Several local and campus organizations took advantage of the occasion by setting up shop and promoting their services. These included the AFSP, VA Butler Health Care, the Clarion Psychiatrist Center, and Slippery Rock University’s branch of the mental health nonprofit Active Minds.

According to group member Lauryn McGennis, Active Minds was disbanded as a result of COVID-19 and only recently restarted operations.

“It's basically just working to alter the conversation on campus around mental health and advocate for better resources, as well as fighting the stigma that often comes with the subject of mental health,” McGennis said.

One booth also handed out necklaces in various colors, each of which symbolizes different types of struggle. White symbolizes the loss of a child, while orange symbolizes the loss of a parent.

“The green one is a personal struggle,” Catrain said. “The blue one is supporting the cause, and teal is supporting someone who struggles.”

Participants were invited to write on a whiteboard their reasons for taking part in the event. At least two, including Catrain, wrote “For Dylan.”

Catrain wore four different colors of beads for the occasion, including purple.

“The purple one is for the (loss of a) relative or a friend, so this is for Dylan.”

Before the dozens of participants set out on their two-mile journey, they heard a speech from Jesse Putkoski, area director for the Western Pennsylvania branch of AFSP.

“The more we talk about our mental health, the more we talk about these things that are going on in our lives, the more lives that we can save,” Putkoski said. “We are walking together today for the day when no one will die by suicide.”

Kennedy Demarsh, left, and Emma Becker distribute beads just before the Out of the Darkness Walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Jesse Putkoski, area director for the AFSP of Western Pennsylvania, briefs walkers and volunteers before the Out of the Darkness Walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Crowds gather for the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Kennedy Demarsh, left, and Emma Becker distribute beads just before the Out of the Darkness Walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle
Jesse Putkoski, area director for the AFSP of Western Pennsylvania, briefs walkers and volunteers before the Out of the Darkness Walk at Slippery Rock University on Sunday, April 14. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

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