Backpack Exhibit to Raise Awareness of Suicide Among College Students
More than 1,000 backpacks on a college green can get students talking.
That’s part of what they’re intended to do.
Send Silence Packing is a national traveling public education exhibit of 1,100 backpacks that represent the 1,100 college students who annually die by suicide. It’s a program of Active Minds Inc., a national nonprofit with a mission to engage students in discussions about mental health.
Family and friends of the deceased college students donated the 1,100 backpacks, as well as stories and photos, of their loved ones.
Sharing the students’ stories across the country helps to humanize the sobering statistics, including that suicide is the second-leading cause of death of college students and that while 44 percent of college students report being so depressed in the past year that it was difficult to function, two-thirds of those who need help do not get it.
The exhibit thus seeks to increase awareness of mental health and the scope of suicide, eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness so that students do not suffer in silence, and to provide information and resources for students in need of assistance.
The University of Maine and local community are invited to experience Send Silence Packing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, April 2.
Dr. Kelly Shaw, UMaine outreach coordinator and psychologist at the Counseling Center, advises the university’s Active Minds chapter, which is one of more than 400 nationwide. She says the plan is to place the backpacks on the campus Mall, but if it’s snow-covered, the exhibit will be featured in the Memorial Union Atrium, near the campus bookstore.
At Send Silence Packing, members of Active Minds will have handouts about mental health, suicide prevention and where people can seek help. UMaine Counseling Center staff also will be on site.
“Events like these are very important for us as a campus to come together and acknowledge that people are struggling and they often struggle silently,”says Dr. Robert Dana, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students.
“We strive to be a kind, caring, compassionate community and raising awareness and letting people know that we are a safe place to talk about these serious topics is one way that we can communicate that. We want people to know they are valued and belong here. This is their community and we are here for them.”
UMaine was selected as one of 12 Northeast campuses to be a part of the Send Silence Packing spring 2015 tour. Shaw says she’s grateful for the financial support of the Resident Hall Association and Student Government to bring the exhibit to UMaine.
Alison Malmon started Active Minds in 2003 after her brother Brian died by suicide when he was a senior in college. More than 300,000 people in 75 communities throughout the United States have experienced Send Silence Packing since it was unveiled in 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Anyone in the UMaine community wishing to talk is encouraged to contact the Counseling Center at 207.581.1392 or stop by 5721 Cutler Health Center, Room 125 (facing Gannett Hall) Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Additional resources may be found on the Counseling Center website.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777