Nearly 1,100 college students die each year from suicide. It is a staggering statistic, and one that is quoted all too often. Luckily for us, student groups like Active Minds are here to ensure students never feel alone and to promote mental wellness on campus.
On April 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Active Minds hosted an exhibit of 1,100 backpacks on Friendship Green to represent the number of college students we lose to suicide each year in the U.S. The backpacks were donated in memory of loved ones who have since passed, most accompanied by personal notes and stories about the victims from their friends and family.
Send Silence Packing is a nationwide display that was first revealed at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Since its original opening in 2008, Active Minds members across the country have brought the interactive exhibit to over 300,000 people. The organization was founded by Alison Malmon after the loss of her 22 year-old brother in 2003.
“For over 10 years, Active Minds has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about mental health and combat the stigma surrounding it, but our work is never over,” said Malmon. “I’m particularly proud of Send Silence Packing, a powerful visual that really shows how serious of an issue this is on our college campuses.”
Stigma is a huge part of Active Minds’ message, as many college students feel afraid to talk to family or friends about the mental issues they may be going through. In fact, according to the New York State Office of Mental Health, over half of college students experience suicidal thoughts and 1 in 10 students have seriously considered suicide. Armed with these statistics, it is integral that students realize the importance of talking to someone. Fortunately for Gannon students, we have unlimited access to counseling and other anxiety and depression treatment at the Health Services Center at no cost.
There was no shortage of students at the event, filling Friendship Green and AJ’s way with a heavy air. While truly devastating, many found the event brought a sense of relief to those who no longer had to feel alone with their mental and emotional troubles. One student, first-year nursing major Dana Engel, told us what it felt like to read the victims’ stories:
“It was a chilling experience, and really upsetting reading everyone’s stories on their backpacks. I’ve had two friends commit suicide and I wish that they could have gotten help. This exhibit is important because it shows people how serious and common suicide among our age group is.”
Another student, sophomore psychology major Katie Miller, felt the exhibit added an entirely new dimension to these statistics:
“Reading the stories that family and friends wrote was so touching. A couple of them brought tears to my eyes. Putting a picture and a story to a backpack makes such a difference to how you think and feel about suicide. It makes everything feel so much more real.”
The event was not only a success in those it reached in person; nearly 400 students shared photos and information about the event on social media – more so than any university post or event in recent memory -with hashtags such as #SendSilencePacking, #GannonU and #StayAlive. On April 14, those who took a moment between classes to stop by Friendship Green were able to truly recognize the impact their life has on those who surround them. It is important for us to remember that not only did their lives matter, but ours do, as well.