Stony Brook students participate in the Walk of Hope on Wednesday, Sept. 18, along the Academic Mall. The walk occurred during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which was meant to promote suicide prevention. BERNARD SANCHEZ/THE STATESMAN

Updated Sept. 22, 8:36 p.m.: Gina Ferrara’s quote was updated to clarify her position on suicide prevention.

Salvatore Fratto stood in front of a crowd of more than 100 people waiting to hear him play with a broken guitar. 

The Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO) asked him to play a song at a rally in the Student Activities Center before the second annual “Walk of Hope.” Fratto, a senior English major and jazz minor, wrote the song himself based on his own personal experiences. He titled it, “Who’s Got It Better Than You?” after something his dad used to tell him when he was upset. 

He was only a few chords into the song when a string on his guitar broke.  

“It just broke. The string broke,” Fratto said into the microphone. He attempted to keep playing, but without the string, his strumming was stilted, so the crowd took over from there. They began to clap along to the beat while Fratto strummed lightly and sang. 

The walk —which took place on Wednesday, Sept. 18, during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — was meant to promote suicide prevention. It was created last year with the goal to generate a productive conversation about mental health, Danielle Merolla, the assistant director for CPO, said.

“We need to be able to communicate about this,” Merolla said. “We need to make sure people don’t feel alone. They need to feel educated, knowledgeable and know their resources. We know that the body and mind are connected. If we truly want our students to do well, we need to make sure they’re taking care of their minds as well.”

Tables at the rally held boards with information on Stony Brook’s mental health resources and whiteboards that read, “I walk because … ” Students were able to complete the sentence; some responses included: “Every life matters” and “I care.” 

A volunteer from the Student Health Advisory Committee, junior health science major Gina Ferrara, stood behind a table with pins scattered across it. She handed them out to students with sayings such as, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” and “Stop suicide.”   

“I believe that removing stigmas and those sorts of negative connotations with suicide prevention and awareness is important,” Ferrara said. “The stigma is what should be gone. There’s no reason for it. There’s no purpose for it. It’s the 21st century. We’re here to be active.”

Richard Gatteau, the vice president of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, attended the rally. He urged the Stony Brook community to speak openly about the topic in hopes that it would encourage people to step forward about their mental health.  

“Suicide is a very real and a growing problem in our society and also on our college campuses,” Gatteau said. “It is the second leading cause of death among college students. We can and must work together to support each other. We know that mental health matters, and it is essential to our Seawolves’ overall success and well being here at Stony Brook.”

Fratto was the last act at the rally before the march started. With his broken guitar, he sang, “I waste all my time thinking maybe tomorrow things will change for the better. Well I know I better get out of my head. Maybe my father was right all along when he said, ‘who’s got it better, who’s got it better than you?’”

With an enthusiastic round of applause for Fratto and a quick rehearsal of the chants, “Walk of Hope” participants took to the academic mall to promote suicide prevention.

Students and faculty raised signs with sayings like, “Tomorrow needs you,” “You can and you will” and “Be the one to follow up,” while marching through campus after the rally. They chanted: “We are valued, we are loved, we are not alone.”

A large section of the crowd was composed of members of Stony Brook Athletics. Teams like Football, Women’s and Men’s Lacrosse, Tennis and Swimming and Diving were present. Margaret Ross, a sophomore sociology major on the cross country and track and field teams, said SBU Athletics felt moved to come. 

“We all tried to come out because it’s such an amazing cause,” Ross said. “This past weekend, we [SBU Athletics] had a talk from Tyler Hilinski’s family, who was a quarterback at Washington State and took his own life last January. So I think it’s a really fresh and raw idea for all of us.”

Following the march, all attendees were invited into the Sidney Gelber Auditorium, where they were met with another performance. 

Swallow This!, a student improv group who portrays real student experiences, performed “messages of hope and care” that the CPO has been collecting from the Stony Brook community, Merolla said. 

The group read some of the messages: “You are brave, and you are worth it,” “I’m going to be good to me, so you can be good to you” and “Please know there are people who genuinely care. I may not know you, but I do care.”

The performers then took turns reading off their own messages of hope. Emily Pulver, a senior anthropology major, said, “The fight is not over, so keep on fighting.”

Jessica Saley, senior programmer/analyst for the Division of Information Technology, told the crowd she lost her husband to suicide in July of 2016. She was left a widow and a single mother. 

“I’m here to tell you what I tell my son: His daddy had a sick brain,” Saley said. “Just like when someone has a sick heart, they have a heart attack, and your dad had a brain attack. There is help out there for both, especially on this campus.”

Merolla encouraged the crowd to be active in the fight against suicide. She said it could save someone’s life. 

“This is Suicide Prevention Month; we are reaching out to those who are struggling and remembering those who we have lost,” she said. “It takes one person who could change the trajectory of someone’s day, week and even life. We all matter in this.”

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