During Ryan Sullivan’s senior year at Severna Park High School in 2021, a fellow student committed suicide. Now a sophomore at the University of Maryland, Sullivan wants to help those who battle depression and anxiety.
As a member of the fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, Sullivan is gearing up for an Out of the Darkness Walk to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The walk will be held on the University of Maryland campus in College Park on April 2 from 3:00pm to 6:00pm.
Sullivan’s mom is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and works in mental health, so it’s a topic that has always been important in his family. He is trying to raise $5,000 as a walk participant and has set up an AFSP fundraising page.
The Voice caught up with Sullivan in advance of the walk.
Q: The Out of the Darkness Walk is a big event for Lambda Chi Alpha. What is your personal connection to the cause?
A: I’ve been blessed enough to be surrounded by a family that is in health care and particularly mental health, so it’s really been a gigantic part of my life since I can remember. I’ve also dealt with depression and anxiety myself since middle school and know how hard it can be sometimes to get out of bed and just get going. The lows feel so low, and I can really relate to a lot of those who’ve gone through the same thing.
Also, while I was in high school, I’ve seen what suicide can do to friends, family and an entire community. It’s truly heartbreaking and I wish I had a bigger platform to make a difference, and now I finally feel like I have a platform to try and help.
Q: Were you involved with the Out of the Darkness Walk last year?
A: I was not involved in the walk last year. The walk happens every spring, and I joined my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, this fall. Actually, a gigantic part of me joining was the philanthropy, and having it be related to mental health gave me a direct connection to the fraternity.
Q: For this event, what are your responsibilities as philanthropy chair?
A: So, I am actually one of two philanthropy chairs, and me and my other chair, Ethan Glennon, split a lot of the duties and responsibilities. This event is obviously our biggest, and there’s a lot of logistics that go into it.
We have to get permits to walk on campus from the College Park police and fire department, plan a walk route, reach out to guest speakers and other stuff of that sort. We also are in charge of advertising, so making and distributing flyers, reaching out to other organizations on and off campus, and overall, just facilitating the event and getting the word out to as many people as possible.
Q: Your fraternity’s walk raised $40,000 last year. What would you consider a success this year, not only financially but also for the event’s mission?
A: I feel like this year has already been a success. Any awareness that is spread is a gigantic achievement, and that’s what this is really about. If more people are aware of how prominent of an issue this is, then that’s what truly matters.
Financially, we are also doing very well. Last year, we were the fourth-largest walk in the country while we were still under some COVID restrictions and still did very well. Our goal this year is $50,000 and we’re trying our best to reach it, but in the end, just spreading awareness is what really matters.
Q: What else have you been up to since you left Severna Park?
A: I’m currently a sophomore public health science major at the University of Maryland. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been related to my career path, as following in my family’s footsteps, I want to be a doctor and work in psychiatry. I worked as a physical therapy technician this summer to gain some clinical hours and that was an awesome experience.
On campus, I’m heavily involved with my fraternity and I’m also a peer mentor for my life sciences living learning program. A lot of what I do is based around my future career, and having a cause like this align with what I want to do really makes this event all the more important to me.