Hundreds walk to raise funds for suicide prevention, mental health
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Hundreds walk to raise funds for suicide prevention, mental health


Moving from western Nebraska to Lincoln for college was a big change for Chadron native Cortland Goffena.

"College, for many people, is the first time that you're on your own," Goffena, 22, said. "It has a huge impact on you."

In his new environment, Goffena struggled with depression and anxiety. Suicidal thoughts crept into his mind.

Goffena eventually found help through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Counseling and Psychological Services, and now he is trying to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Hundreds of walkers, including Goffena, circled around the UNL campus Sunday to raise funds for suicide prevention and mental health awareness as a part of the "Out of the Darkness" walk.

The walk was coordinated by UNL's Out of the Darkness club in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Donations received at the walk and online go to fund the foundation.

The nearly three-mile march started on the north side of the Nebraska Union at 2 p.m. Walkers looped east of Memorial Stadium and eventually along the Antelope Creek trail through Trago Park.

This is the second year that students have hosted the walk. In 2016, 650 participants raised nearly $25,000. Donations help fund suicide awareness programs in the community, advocacy groups and educational programs.

Coordinator Shelby Williby said last year's success compelled the club to host the walk for a second year in hopes of drawing more awareness for mental illness and the services offered at UNL. She expects the walk to raise around $15,000.

"There's a stigma around getting help," she said. "For UNL specifically, we don't have a lot of visibility for mental health and we're trying to make that a goal of our walk." 

UNL offers counseling through the University Health Center and the Women's Center. Mental health services are also available for members of the LGBTQA community. 

According to the AFSP, suicide accounts for over 200 deaths in Nebraska. It also is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-34 in the state.

Walk volunteer Chris Morton believes the strains of college life makes students especially vulnerable.

"I think that it (mental illness) affects everyone but particularly as it pertains to college students," he said. "The stresses of college life can put a lot of people in that direction."

Sunday's walk was one of hundreds of events that the AFSP hosts in the U.S. each year in its attempt to raise funds and reduce the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025.

Additional donations can be made at

Williby said ending the stigma around suicide and mental illness all starts with a conversation.

"We're trying to facilitate some discussions and inform people how much a problem mental illness is," she said. "But we never talk about it." 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or

On Twitter @zach_hammack.


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