As University of Indianapolis students walked around Smith Mall on April 9, they discovered 1,100 backpacks lying across the grass as part of the Active Minds traveling exhibit “Send Silence Packing.”
The backpacks represent the number of college students who die by suicide each year. Each backpack is donated and made personal with stories written by family or friends who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Anna Bersin, an Active Minds road trip staffer, travels with the exhibit to different universities across the country. Bersin said that while Active Minds works to erase the stigma around all mental health issues, Send Silence Packing is used specifically to educate students about suicide prevention.
“The exhibit’s main purpose is to provide a very powerful visual so that once they [students] see the backpacks, it starts the conversation. One of the objectives of Active Minds is to open up the conversation and erase the stigma around mental illness, and this one is specifically suicide prevention,” Bersin said. “It also provides people with resources to show that suicide is very preventable. And as long as they have the proper resources, they can get the proper help and get through whatever it is they are going through.”
Because the resources available along the display’s route are school specific, the handouts at each stop come from the respective university’s counseling center. Representatives from the center come to the event, talk to students and show their presence on campus. Pamphlets with warning signs for suicide as well as mental illness brochures are available.
Before becoming a road trip staffer, Bersin also created the Active Minds’ chapter at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, while she was at school. According to Bersin, many of those who became involved in mental health awareness did so after being personally affected as she was.
“I started getting involved in mental health advocacy in high school, after my brother’s good friend took his life. He wasn’t a heavy presence in my life. But to see how much it affected me—more than I could imagine—I started to get the ball rolling and stepped up to do something. Before that, suicide was a foreign concept to me, and then when that happened, I realized how much of a problem it really was.”
Besides hosting “Send Silence Packing,” UIndy’s Active Minds chapter also hosted its fourth annual Stomp Out Stigma 5k run/walk on Saturday, April 5, on campus.
Some 41 runners and walkers participated in the race, and $684 was raised. Amanda McErlean, a graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral program, said that the event went very well overall and that a local organization would benefit from the money raised.
“We had beautiful weather for the race, and the runners and walkers seemed to enjoy participating in the 5k,” McErlean said. “Half of this year’s proceeds will go to Outside the Box, a local mental health organization that provides day and employment services for individuals with developmental disabilities.”
Representatives from Outside the Box and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention were present at the event to provide information regarding the services and events that they offer.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website, the prevalence of serious psychological disorders in 18-24 year olds is the highest of any other group. However, they also show the lowest rate of help-seeking behaviors.
McErlean said that it is imperative that college students know that they have plenty of resources to help them and that being able to assist in that is why Active Minds is important to her.
“College is an important and exciting time for exploration and growth, but it can also be a stressful experience. It is essential for college students not only to have knowledge about mental health but also to feel comfortable seeking support for themselves or reaching out to a friend who may need support,” McErlean said. “Active Minds has provided me with an opportunity to promote mental health awareness, so that the students of UIndy can be advocates for themselves and their fellow students in relation to mental health.”