Jan. 18, 2013
BERKELEY - On April 7, members of the Cal community with join together on Sproul Plaza for the UC Berkeley Suicide Prevention Walk, presented by the campus organization You Mean More.
Founded to increase awareness on campus about the No. 2 cause of death among college students, You Mean More is expected to be joined on the front lines of the event by sophomore Blake Simons, a Golden Bear rugby student-athlete who became a vocal advocate for heightened awareness since seeking help for his own depression.
Simons found himself struggling before college after the suicide of a friend in high school. "I became isolated," he said. "None of my friends really knew what I was feeling and I didn't know what was wrong with me."
Having received support and treatment since going to the medical staff in Intercollegiate Athletics and University Health Services at the Tang Center, followed by an internship in San Francisco with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Simons has since become a voice for a prevalent problem that needs more discussion.
"I want to give back to the community, do something for my friend who passed away and do something for myself," Simons said. "The first step is definitely the hardest, to admit that you have a problem and to get help. It's a scary thing to admit. But it's fully treatable and that's why I'm so passionate about it."
You Mean More is working with the Greater San Francisco Bay chapter of the AFSP in seeking individual and corporate support of the event. AFSP describes itself as "the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy, and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide."
Gordon Doughty, chairman of that chapter, said, "The walk is about acknowledging that suicide is an issue and breaking the stigma associated with talking about an illness from the shoulders up. Nationally, 80 percent of us will know someone and 20 percent will have a family member take their lives by suicide."
The entire UC system this past year adopted the AFSP's interactive screening program as a primary suicide prevention tool. Run out of the Tang Center and made available to students via email, this screening resource allows students to establish their own individual ID and take the assessment. The Tang Center gets in touch with students deemed to be at risk within 24-36 hours.
Simons has received support from teammates as well as his University. "We just wanted to give him all the support we could as a teammates and classmates," said sophomore Lucas Dunne. "Seeking help doesn't make you less of a man; it's the complete opposite. It takes a lot of courage to go to somebody."
While Simons said he is comfortable with his name being used in ongoing efforts for his well being, the support group within the medical staff of Intercollegiate Athletics reassures those who might seek their help that their privacy and confidentiality are top priorities.
"This is a great and important cause to be discussing, and something we should be talking more about, in a very global sense," said one medical staff member from the department.
"It's not about sympathy. It's about your health," said sophomore teammate Scott Walsh. "It's great that we all have this outlet and I'm glad that Blake used it to his advantage."
Registrations and donations for the April 7 event can both be made by visiting the UC Berkeley Campus Walk web page at campuswalks.org. Simons has a personal fundraising page at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website. You can also visit and "Like" The UC Berkeley Suicide Prevention Walk on Facebook.
The University Health Services/Tang Center is located at 2222 Bancroft Way at the southwest corner of campus between Ellsworth and Fulton (Oxford) Streets. During office hours, Counseling and Psychological Services are available in Room 3300. Those in crisis or with urgent needs should inform a staff member at the reception desk. When the Tang Center is closed, the After Hours Assistance Line is available at (510) 643-7197. A 24-Hour Community Crisis Line is also available at (800) 309-2131.