CLU hosts its annual ‘Out of the Darkness’ Suicide Prevention Walk


Photo contributed by Pia Valtierra

Co-chairs Pia Valtierra (left) and Alexandra Anthonioz (right) helped set up the Suicide Prevention Walk.

Leslie Mendez, Reporter

On Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 9 a.m. California Lutheran University, alongside the University of Southern California, hosted their annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk to fight suicide. This Out of the Darkness Campus walk was held in Kingsmen Park and was open to the Thousand Oaks community. 

This walk supports the goal of lowering the annual U.S. rate of suicide, which is currently the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Volunteers from Los Angeles and Ventura County came together to support and raise awareness around efforts the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides. 

Senior psychology student Pia Valtierra shared that her involvement with the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk was encouraged by the psychology Department Chair Rainer Diriwächter. 

“The chair of the department of psychology Dr. [Diriwächter] emailed me and said that they were looking for a student coacher that could potentially take that role in helping with the walk,” Valtierra said. “I wanted to help serve the community and represent my school in a positive way.”

Valtierra also said an event of this scale takes months of preparation.

 “It’s taken so much planning, we’ve been working on this for five months. It takes a lot of work, mostly communication with my team and the Cal Lu community,” Valtierra said.

These annual walks occur nationwide, this walk is one out of the 550 that will take place in 2022. The walks gather over 300,000 people and raise millions of dollars for suicide prevention programs. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the campus walks raise over $21 million nationwide and over $10,000 locally. 

According to AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia, the Out of Darkness Campus Walk helps raise awareness, while also fundraising for programs that can educate and help those with mental health inquiries.

Senior psychology student and lead student coacher of the walk Alexandra Anthonioz described the importance of the walk.

“This is really a suicide prevention event and not only just prevention but awareness,”  Anthonioz said. “Reminding people how big of an issue this is and how a lot of this is preventable. Kind of just shining a light on how so many people around you might be struggling with depression and anxiety, it doesn’t have to be as extreme as suicide, it can be mental health in general.”

The student coaches worked on promoting the event for months, encouraging members of the community to participate and volunteer. Volunteers from previous walks and all over the Los Angeles and Ventura Counties joined Cal Lutheran in hosting this year’s in-person campus walk.

Monica Friedel-Candida from Los Angeles came to volunteer in her first campus walk after participating in one of the wider-scale walks in Pasadena last year. 

“I got involved just recently, I knew about it because I work for the department of health in Los Angeles,” Friedel-Candida said. “It’s a public health issue, there’s still a lot of taboo and stigma so if we put the information out there that there is help and there are possibilities. Information is power.”

Alongside this walk, California Lutheran also has its own resources like Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). CAPS offers therapy services for students, staff, and faculty.  

“CAPS is going to be our most licensed resource, but a lot of professors are always willing to help, specifically in the psych department,” Anthonioz said.

Valtierra emphasized the importance and impact these Out of the Darkness campus walks can have on people, especially now that mental health is being more accepted.

“Spreading awareness to not only the Cal Lu community but the Ventura County community and hope to inspire others to spread the awareness because it’s such an important topic to talk about. And now that mental health is becoming more and more accepted, we’re hoping that people that are struggling know that they’re not alone and that there’s support and that there are individuals that are happy to listen,” Valtierra said.