CAM center’s focus on cognitive aging and memory is ultimately about understanding and enhancing quality of life. That is why members of the center have come together to help fight suicide and bring greater awareness about mental health by participating in Gainesville’s Out of the Darkness Community Walk Saturday, November 6 at Santa Fe College track. Out of the Darkness community walks , sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSB), raises money and awareness for suicide prevention.
UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory Team, made up of 18 members from the CAM center, are currently the top fundraising team in Gainesville’s community walk. They have raised over $3,000 for the cause. This money goes to support AFSP’s mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. Team member Jori Waner was the top individual fundraising with over $1200.
It was the mission of bringing hope to those affected that spurred the CAM team into action. Samantha Pedersen, a research assistant in the lab of Adam J. Woods, co-director of the CAM center, approached members of her lab about joining her in a community walk. “Starting a team through CAM felt like an opportunity to not only contribute to the overall movement for suicide prevention, but also an opportunity to affect change on a small scale by initiating a discussion amongst our peers within a safe space,” said Pedersen.
The cause is one close to Pedersen’s heart. She lost her little brother, Tian, to suicide in January 2020. “After his death, I was incentivized towards suicide awareness and activism,” said Pedersen. “One aspect of this was realizing that many risk factors associated with higher rates of suicide attempts are very relevant for the people I love — particularly in realizing the risk of suicide is exceptionally high for people between 15-34 years old, an age range encompassing many of my friends, peers, colleagues, and professors here at UF.”
Whether moved to action in support of Pederson or by their own personal stories, it is not surprising for members of the Woods lab and CAM to get involved in helping the community. In October, members of the lab participated in Walk to End Alzheimer’s. “I have always appreciated that there is a very positive environment within the Woods Lab, so I believed that the CAM family would show their support,” said Pedersen.
Although Pedersen was confident of receiving support from her coworkers, she didn’t anticipate the level to which she would receive it. The CAM team is currently the top fundraising team in Gainesville having raised $3125 with donations still being collected. “I could have never anticipated this degree and breadth of support,” said Pedersen. “The CAM center has gone far beyond exceeding my expectations.”
According to the AFSP website, community walks are meant to “give people the courage to open up about their own connections to the cause and a platform to create a culture that’s smarter about mental health. Friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers walk side-by-side, supporting each other and in memory of those we’ve lost.”
Participating in this event along with her CAM family has allowed Pedersen to feel supported as she continues to grieve and honor her brother. “I’d like to share my appreciation with the UF CAM center for their support, particularly Dr. Woods, the people within the Woods Lab, and the friends and family who helped this team succeed,” said Pedersen. “Suicide prevention begins with difficult conversations – it means the world to me that everyone in this team truly came to the conversation with intentions to not just listen, but to take action as well.”
Anyone who is in crisis or having suicidal thoughts should seek help. They can visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org, call 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. Those who are dealing with the loss of someone to suicide can find resources at https://afsp.org/ive-lost-someone.