Backpacks, everywhere you turn. There are 1,100 of them, and each one represents a young life lost to suicide in any given year in the United States.
That will be the scene on Franklin & Marshall College’s Hartman Green April 3, when Send Silence Packing, a traveling public-education display, comes to campus from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (rain location is Steinman College Center). The goal of the display is to raise awareness about the prevalence of suicide on college campuses and encourage an open dialogue about mental health.
The F&M chapter of Active Minds and the Office of Counseling Services are coordinating the installation with the help of a $5,000 donation to the College in memory of former F&M student Matt Carr ’10. Active Minds is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that urges students to speak openly about mental health issues on college campuses. There are 342 student-run chapters of the organization throughout the United States and Canada.
Active Minds co-presidents Ariel Eland ’14 and Lizzy Noonan-Pomada ’14 said they were moved to bring the display to campus because they believe depression is a crucial—yet largely ignored—concern at F&M.
“People talk about a lot of issues on this campus, but depression is not one of them,” Noonan-Pomada said. “There’s a stigma. If you’re not having the ideal college experience, then there must be something wrong with you.”
The first Send Silence Packing event was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in April 2008. More than 10,000 people visited the display. It has since been installed in 39 cities in 19 states, including at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, Inner Harbor in Baltimore and Prudential Center in downtown Boston.
Many of the backpacks have been donated in honor of loved ones who took their lives. Attached to those backpacks are personal stories from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. The organization hopes the poignant messages serve as a wake-up call for at-risk students.
“It’s an uneasy topic,” Eland said. “No one wants to admit depression is an issue in their lives. But when it is a part of someone’s life, you want to make sure there are places to get help.”
At F&M, that help is provided by the Office of Counseling Services. Counselors will be on hand the day of the event to talk to visitors and spread the word about the resources available to F&M students.
“Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among the college-age group,” after accidents and homicides, said Christine Conway, director of counseling services. “We hope this display will raise awareness and facilitate conversations, making it O.K. for people to talk about the issue of suicide.”
Other Active Minds members who have played an important role in bringing Send Silence Packing to F&M are Heather Katz ’14, publicity chair; Erica Eglow ’14; treasurer; Carly Friedlander ’14, secretary; and Paige Evans ’15, research liaison. In all, more than 30 volunteers will participate throughout the day.
Lauren Firestone, assistant director of Counseling Services, was impressed with the students’ commitment to the effort.
“They have been passionate and dedicated to the success of this program and to the discussion of mental health issues on campus,” she said. “Working with Active Minds has been a great opportunity to engage with students who show an interest in these issues and a desire to educate themselves and others.”