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On April 11, Point Park University will hold its first Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Registration opens at 11 a.m. in Village Park, which will be filled with tables from AFSP, the University Counseling Center and student organizations. Point Park’s Police Department will also be grilling hot dogs in Village Park.

The opening ceremony at noon will include a raffle and other special features. The route, which is roughly one mile, will circle Market Square and return to Village Park. Point Park police will escort the walkers for safety.

Register for the walk to begin fundraising for this meaningful cause.

Community Members Share Personal Stories

Several members of the Point Park community have experienced loss from suicide. Below, they share their personal stories.

Note: Talking about suicide and listening to and reading stories can be a powerful experience, but it can also bring up a range of emotions that may be uncomfortable or upsetting. If at any point reading this article you need to take a step back, please do so. There are resources listed at the end of this article if you need to talk to someone. 


Student Morgan Smith, a senior Marketing and Sales major, decided to organize the campus walk after losing her good friend Drew to suicide in 2020. Drew was taking a gap year after graduating from high school and had distanced himself from a lot of his friends in the six months prior to his death. This was a significant departure from the “life of the party” person Smith had known. 

“I had experienced losses before, but this one hit close to home because he was someone who was my age, and I had personally struggled with mental health issues during COVID-19 and around that time,” said Smith. 

Smith participated in two Pittsburgh Out of the Darkness community walks and described them as “a healing experience.” “It was helpful for me to be surrounded by people who have gone through the same experience,” she said.


Alumna Ryan Strength ’12, also describes the unique connection with others dealing with suicide loss. Strength lost her cousin Sean in 2016. She describes Sean, who was raised in close proximity along with five other cousins, as “like a brother,” and said he was funny, a jokester. Like her, he was empathetic, perhaps to a fault. “He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders,” she said. Eventually, he developed a substance addiction.

Shortly after his death, Strength visited her aunt in Arizona and attended a grief support group there. When she came back to Pittsburgh, she looked for that same type of support in her life, leading her to discover AFSP. “It’s a different type of loss than any other loss, and you don’t really get that until it’s happened,” said Strength. “It’s something people don’t like to talk about. So to be around people who had experienced this and were comfortable talking about it was huge to me.” 

After benefitting from the organization, she joined the Western Pennsylvania board of AFSP, and was recently elected chair of the Loss and Healing Committee. Currently, she facilitates two grief support groups and provides training for other facilitators. 

Strength has also taken the opportunity to examine her own life: “When Sean died, I realized I needed to take a look at my own mental health as well and start taking care of myself. I feel like I’m in the healthiest place I’ve ever been.” 


Like Strength, Marlin Collingwood threw himself into mental health awareness and suicide prevention shortly after losing his husband to suicide. Collingwood, vice president of Enrollment Management, lost Gary Girton — a Point Park Conservatory of Perfoming Arts alum — to suicide in 2014. When they first met, Girton was outgoing, fun, smart and a tremendously talented actor, said Collingwood. Years later, he developed severe depression and sought many types of treatment. Collingwood was his advocate and caregiver in the years preceding Girton’s death. 

When Girton passed away, Collingwood said, he was adamant that he would not hide his late husband’s struggles, and he candidly shared their story on WBUR, the NPR station in Boston.

“At that moment, you believe not only has the person you loved and shared your life with died, you believe your own future has died,” Collingwood said, describing the dreams that he and Girton had shared. “When he was gone, I’d think, ‘we’re never going to be able to buy that house on the Cape,’…It feels like your future has died too.” 

Collingwood coped with his loss by joining the board of the Boston chapter of AFSP and walking in the Boston Out of the Darkness community walk only five months after his loss. He will speak in the opening ceremony of the April 11 walk, just a month shy of the tenth anniversary of Girton’s death.


Staff member Pamela Quatchak, director of Online Student Advising, has lost two family members to suicide, one as a child and one in adulthood. She was still very young when her mother’s partner died by suicide but remembers him as a wonderful man who lost hope when his business failed. 

In recent years, a cousin died by suicide. She remembered how happy Darren was at his wife’s baby shower, so excited to welcome their new daughter. Five years later, when he took his own life, Quatchak realized, “he must have been in such incredible pain to have left his daughter.” Quatchak watched her mother mourn both losses and be impacted by them.

Quatchak is a member of the Community Engagement Committee of Staff Assembly and remembers when Smith first approached the committee about helping with the campus walk. “So many articles I’ve read lately about mental health on campuses and what students are going through, and how many young people consider suicide, it’s heartbreaking,” said Quatchak. “I think it’s really wonderful that she’s bringing awareness to this and bringing people together and hopefully some healing will result.”

Of her decision to bring the walk to campus, Smith said, “I noticed other schools in the area did campus walks and Point Park wasn’t a part of it. I wanted to help other students that have either dealt with mental health themselves or had suicidal thoughts or lost loved ones.” 

Bringing Light to the Topic

Bringing awareness to the difficult subject of mental illness and suicide is the reason for the name of the walk: to pull these topics “out of the darkness.”

“Depression is not a ‘casserole disease,’” said Collingwood. Unlike physical illness, which people often respond to by bringing food and offering support, depression is often hidden or not discussed. “That has to change,” said Collingwood.

Fortunately, it seems to be. “This generation is much more likely than any generation before to talk openly about their mental health needs,” said Collingwood.

Smith described the activities that helped her when she struggled with mental health: “Leaning on family and friends. Being open and not keeping things in. When you bottle things up, it eats you alive.” Physical activity like working out also helped her to come out of a low point. 

“Your current situation is never permanent,” Smith said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and lean on people.”

To those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, Strength tells them, “There is hope. There are resources available. There are people who want to help you and want you to be around and continue to live.” 

Cassandra Moffat, Psy.D., director of the University Counseling Center (UCC) tells those contemplating suicide that they are inherently worthy of living. “Remember the little things that remind you that while life can be dark at times, life can still be beautiful, too. You are never alone on this journey and there are people who want to help, you just have to let them listen. You don’t need to suffer in silence.”

Resources on Campus

All Point Park students have access to free mental health services at no cost at the UCC. The UCC can also offer support to someone who is concerned about their friend’s safety or well-being. 

Students in crisis can reach out to the UCC during business hours:

University Counseling Center
5th Floor, Lawrence Hall
9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday

If a therapist is unavailable, there are confidential places to talk with a Resolve counselor (a service provided in Allegheny County).

Students can reach out to Public Safety by calling 412-392-3960 or x2222 from a campus phone, and they will either get ambulatory services or a Point Park administrator on duty. 

For those off-campus or seeking anonymous help, there are easy ways to connect with someone. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached by phone or text at 988 or The Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis. To chat with a trained listener, text TALK to 741741.

Walk for Support

Participation in the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk means AFSP can continue to do the work of providing crisis help for those with suicidal thoughts as well as support groups for those who have suffered a loss. Walk on your own or form a team. You can also register the day of the walk. There is no cost to register.

For more information, email Morgan Smith at

Photos by Natalie Caine '25.

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