UC Berkeley mental health awareness club hosts 8th annual suicide prevention walk

Allen Zeng/Staff

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UC Berkeley mental health awareness club You Mean More, or YMM, hosted its eighth annual Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk on Sproul Plaza in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP, on Saturday.

YMM works to increase mental health awareness, prevent suicide and provide resources for students. More than 200 people attended the walk, raising an estimated $4,000, according to campus junior, walk chair and YMM Administration Director Bella Flaherty. The organization hopes to raise $10,000 by the end of its campaign for AFSP in June.

“Conversation ends the stigma, and we are here to just spark conversation,” said campus sophomore and YMM Outreach Director Vivienne Lam.

Flaherty and Lam, along with campus sophomore and YMM Internal Director Michelle Fernando, began planning the event in November 2018. The club spent an estimated $1,000 on the event, according to Fernando.

The walk began with a “club fair” for attendees to learn more about mental health resources and organizations. Many campus clubs and community organizations tabled at the event, including the American Medical Women’s Association, or AMWA, the campus Student-to-Student Peer Counseling program and AFSP.

Campus freshmen Anna Vardapetyan and Samantha Frias attended the event as the representatives for AMWA. They serve on the campus chapter’s mental health committee.

Vardapetyan said that “especially in school,” students find themselves in a “hole of academics and stress.” The AMWA campus chapter is working to promote awareness of mental health stigma.

The event also incorporated stress-relief activities. Campus club De-Stress with Dogs tabled at the event, and llamas were also brought onto campus from a llama sanctuary located in the Sierra Foothills for students to pet.

The event included a ceremony with three official speakers: Flaherty, campus senior Sandora Colin and Esme Shaller, a campus psychology assistant clinical professor and a UC San Francisco psychiatry associate professor.

After the ceremony, participants walked an estimated 45-minute loop around campus, starting at Sather Gate and ending at Upper Sproul Plaza.

Lam added that the event was designed as a walk to be more accessible to more people. She said she felt as if more people could participate, rather than if they had done a panel.

YMM also used “honor beads” to create an unspoken message and allow people to communicate and share their stories without having to relive them through conversation. Bead necklaces of all colors of the rainbow were handed out based on experience. Green necklaces were meant to signify that one had struggled personally with suicidal ideation, and purple necklaces were meant to signify having lost a friend.

“I’ve had many people tell me that these walks have changed their life,” Flaherty said. “There is comfort in solidarity.”

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that campus psychology professor Stephen Hinshaw was an official speaker during the ceremony. In fact, Esme Shaller, a campus psychology assistant clinical professor, was an official speaker.