In 2017, sophomore Taylor Ryan was in mourning after her mother’s death by suicide. She decided to move forward by helping to spare others her pain, and got began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Ryan, who is studying nonprofits and social change, has been deeply involved with AFSP ever since. She has worked as a field advocate, fundraiser and is currently an intern for the media team in their national office.
On April 4, she hosted the first Out of the Darkness Walk on USC’s campus. As part of AFSP, these walks take place across the country to raise funds and to create awareness about suicide prevention. The event was in partnership with the Undergraduate Student Government, the National Alliance on Mental Health, USC Hillel and their survivor support community and many mental health organizations on campus.
Before hosting USC’s Out of the Darkness Walk, Ryan had taken part in four walks on “Team Sabrina” — in memory of her mom.
Ryan was able to see first hand that these walks can cultivate hope and a sense of community for survivors and their loved ones. She wanted to create this space on campus to save lives and bring hope to those going through similar situations to her.
Ryan recalled her first suicide walk in 2018 in her hometown Omaha, Nebraska. “I was convinced no one else had felt such grief the way I was feeling.” Being among others who had lost loved ones to suicide changed her perspective. “Suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore,” Ryan said.
At the walk yesterday, “Team Sabrina” carried the AFSP banner to lead the walk as the top fundraising team.
The purpose of these walks is to bring to light difficult topics surrounding mental health, instead of perpetuating the stigma around them. If we are not having these conversations, there is no way people can receive the help they need.
“My mom was successful, motivated and kind, but still struggled with many mental health implications. I was lost as to why she was so sad when in my mind there were so many things going well for her,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s work with AFSP has helped her gain a greater understanding of mental health issues and has led her to understand that she was neglecting her own mental health even before her mom’s passing.
Ryan felt ashamed to tell people she was in therapy because of the stigma, and recalled that her mother would also hold her feelings inside. Now, she’s open about her struggles — and wants others to be, too.
“The more we talk about our feelings, the more comfortable people will be when they are struggling,” Ryan said.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.