Image via Wikimedia Commons
More than 1,000 backpacks will line the Cathedral of Learning’s lawn this Friday to represent real college students who have lost their lives to suicide.
The traveling exhibit, called “Send Silence Packing,” is sponsored by the national mental health awareness organization Active Minds, which advocates for mental health care and de-stigmatization surrounding mental illness. The group of backpacks, on display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., aims to put a visual to the statistics of suicide victims.
Attached to the top of each backpack will be the biography of the student that once carried it, along with personal anecdotes and comments from friends and family members.
Julia Lam, the president of Pitt’s Active Minds chapter, said she was enthusiastic about the installation’s relevance on campus.
“It is valuable especially to Pitt, and early on in the school year, to help students remember that so many people care and there are resources available to help,” Lam, a senior psychology and rehabilitation science major, said in an email. “Pitt also plays a role as a big school in the heart of Pittsburgh, as a very visible location for a suicide awareness display that can reach not only students but anyone passing through the Oakland area.”
Lam also drew attention to the demographic prevalence of mental illness in college students. According to a source sheet by the national Active Minds organization, 39% of college students significantly struggle with mental health diagnoses, and among causes of mortality in this demographic, suicide is the second-highest.
Though Lam predicts the subject matter and displays at Send Silence Packing will likely create a heavy emotional atmosphere, some of the Active Minds’ 50 members will be around the perimeter alongside Counseling Center staff, community members and national Active Minds volunteers to encourage conversation and provide support for observers and passersby. Anyone — including staff, students or members of the community — is welcome to attend.
Eric Macadangdang, a current Student Government Board member and the the former chair of the board’s Wellness Committee, said Send Silence Packing events held at other college campuses have prompted more open dialogue among students and staff about mental wellness issues students face with suicide as well as clinical depression and anxiety.
Macadangdang spoke to the effectiveness of past Pitt Active Minds’ initiatives like the “Remembering the 1,100” display last October.
“On the Cathedral Lawn they put down 1,100 white flags to represent the 1,100 college lives lost every year [to suicide],” Macadangdang said. “It was a very powerful movement. This is again just kind of visually representing the magnitude of the problem [of mental health] especially with suicide amongst young adults in college.”
Macadangdang said he hopes the imagery of the exhibit will have an impact on the people who pass by.
“Hopefully it resonates with people to see these piles and piles of backpacks that are representative,” Macadangdang said. “Once you make that mental connection that these aren’t just backpacks, these are lives, it kind of wakes you up.”
Jay Darr, the director of Pitt’s Counseling Center, emphasized the importance of talking about suicide ideation alongside discussion of its victims.
“The vast majority of college students who think about suicide never make a suicide attempt, and even fewer die. Please know that help is available by contacting the University Counseling Center or re:Solve Crisis Network [a 24/7 emergency mental health service],” Darr said in an email.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Counseling Center — which can be found on the second floor of Nordenberg Hall — has programs and resources, as well as mental health professionals on staff to address suicide and other mental health concerns.
“We hope we can continue educating our peers on how to seek [these] mental health services on and off campus, how to handle a mental health crisis, and grow our community of students that share similar experiences with mental health,” Lam said. “While the [Send Silence Packing] event is just one day, we always want to continue the conversation and advocacy year round.”
Where to get help if you or someone you know is in crisis:
Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Contact the Pitt Student Counseling Center: (412) 648-7930
Contact Allegheny County’s Resolve Crisis Hotline: 1-888-7-YOU-CAN
Text for Crisis Support: TEXT “GO” TO 741741