Students marching with signs during Walk of Hope on Sept. 29. Students and faculty gathered at the Student Activities Center to raise mental health awareness. JULIA HEMING/THE STATESMAN

Stony Brook University (SBU) students, faculty and staff gathered at the Student Activities Center (SAC) Plaza on Sept. 29 for the fourth annual Walk of Hope, hosted by the Center for Prevention and Outreach (CPO) to raise mental health awareness during National Suicide Prevention Month. 

Over 100 students and staff, including SBU President Maurie McInnis, began the march at the SAC Plaza with signs reading, “It’s okay to not be okay,” and “Seawolves care,” as well as special buttons and chants provided by the CPO. The group then continued past the Wang Center, Staller Steps, Melville Library and ended back at the SAC. 

“You are not alone. Speak up! Speak up!” could be heard echoing along the march’s path around campus, which was led by student marchers and McInnis herself. 

The march ended with a moment of mindfulness exercises led by Danielle Merolla, the associate director of the CPO, as the group took a moment to acknowledge their present feelings and relax their minds. Merolla encouraged students to find their stillness, practice deep breathing exercises and express gratitude for the gifts of life. 

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The Walk of Hope began four years ago in efforts to ensure that topics of mental health were being spoken about and communicated on campus, emphasizing the importance of talking about emotional wellbeing and concerns, such as suicide. 

“When you see people walking around loud and proud, saying we support people who are depressed, we support people who are suicidal, we support those who are surviving someone else’s suicide, it makes it okay to talk about it,” Christine Szaraz, assistant director at the CPO said. “We know all of the biggest kinds of health issues thrive in silence, thrive in darkness, so the more people are able to, one, alleviate some of the pressure around not talking about it, but two, hopefully get connected with the information, the resources and the people that they’ll need.” 

Outside of Stony Brook, more efforts are being made to increase the support and resources for students’ mental health. Recently, a press release from the State University of New York (SUNY) reported that chancellor Jim Malatras announced $24 million would be invested in mental health and wellness services, marking the greatest single investment into mental health to date in SUNY history.  

According to Smita Majumdar Das, director of the CPO, the stigma surrounding mental health is decreasing but is still prevalent in a lot of minority communities, especially those “where the access to resources for mental health is difficult.”

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Rose Razavi, a junior biochemistry major who participated in the walk, found an affinity to this, as her family struggled with depression after immigrating to the United States from Iran.

“I felt the struggle that was being presented at this group and I felt that I needed to be a part of it, because I knew what it was like to be with people who have that struggle,” Razavi said. 

Although mental health treatment places a significant weight on medical causes and solutions, many people simply need human interaction and communication to alleviate their emotional burdens. A study at Stanford Medicine by Emma Seppala reported that individuals lacking social connections were more prone to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior and, in some cases, suicidal behaviors, emphasizing how many people do not need medical treatment to relieve their mental health problems, they need interpersonal communication and relationships. 

“Most people need connections, most people need engagement, most people need a little bit of help,” Majumdar Das said. 

Lianna Gualberti gave some words of encouragement to students who may be struggling with their mental health. 

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“Just know that myself and many other people in your life are always here if you need to talk,” the senior psychology major who is currently a substance abuse and prevention intern at CPO, said. “You’re never a bother, you’re never a burden. People will always help you, and you’re never alone.”

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