Williby organizes walk to bring suicide prevention to light




Williby organizes walk to bring suicide prevention to light

Calendar Icon May 18, 2016      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed RSS

Shelby Williby, a sophomore in chemical engineering and coordinator of UNL's Out of the Darkness group, was a key figure in organizing an April 17 Campus Walk that drew more than 600 people and raised nearly $25,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Shelby Williby, a sophomore in chemical engineering and coordinator of UNL's Out of the Darkness group, was a key figure in organizing an April 17 Campus Walk that drew more than 600 people and raised nearly $25,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
When Shelby Williby envisioned the first Out of the Darkness Campus Walk at UNL, her expectations for the April 17 event were quite modest.

The event, Williby said, was intended to raise awareness about suicide and, hopefully, save lives, as well as honoring loved ones lost and to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

After speaking to more than 600 people that day who gathered on the greenspace near Broyhill Fountain and raising nearly $25,000, Williby was amazed.

“For once, I was speechless. If you know me, that’s really rare,” said Williby, a sophomore chemical engineering major. “It reinforced to me that what we’re doing is important to our campus whether we realize it or not. The fact we ended up quintupling our expectations showed me how many people are affected by this and how many people do care.”

Williby and a friend, Tanner McKerlie, were among those who spoke at the rally that preceded the walk around campus to the Antelope Valley Parkway and back to the Nebraska Union. The walk was led by the family of Bri Anson, a UNL student and cheerleader who committed suicide last fall.

Back at the union, walkers were able to get information from local organizations at booths and sign posters to show how they have been affected by suicide and mental-health issues.

Williby is among those who have been affected by suicide, having lost a sister and a close friend. And, as the turnout for the walk revealed, she is far from alone on the UNL campus or anywhere in the United States.

In fact, suicides in the U.S. have surged to the highest levels in three decades, according to a study released in April by the National Center for Health Statistics. The study also revealed that suicide rates for those ages 15-24 have risen since 1999 – from 3.0 to 4.6 per 100,000 deaths among women (up 53.3 percent) in that age group and from 16.8 to 18.2 among men (up 8.33 percent).

One way to turn those numbers around, Williby said, is to “erase the stigma” about discussing the topic and let people know help is available.

“My grandmother died from cancer and I have no problem saying that or telling you that. But the fact that my sister killed herself, it took me so long to tell people that’s what happened to her as opposed to just saying, ‘My sister died.’ Part of the reason for holding the walk is to tell people this is something that happens and it happens because we don’t talk about it.”

Williby hoped the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk could help shine a light on those issues. But getting the event from idea to reality wasn’t easy. Because Out of the Darkness is not a Recognized Student Organization (RSO) at UNL, Williby’s group partnered with an existing RSO – Active Minds – to sponsor the event.

The plan, Williby said, is for Out of the Darkness to gain RSO status by the upcoming fall semester. That meant there was no time to rest after the walk.

“I was planning on taking a break, but I couldn’t,” Williby said. “I’ve been trying to establish an officers’ structure and get everything in order so we can fill out the paperwork in August or September.

“The last couple days leading up to the walk were very overwhelming and anxiety inducing. I didn’t sleep much. I slept like a baby that Sunday night. It was completely worth it.”