In an effort to decrease the stigma of mental health, spread awareness and remember college students who lost their lives to suicide, Virginia Commonwealth University recently hosted the national trav
In an effort to decrease the stigma of mental health, spread awareness and remember college students who lost their lives to suicide, Virginia Commonwealth University recently hosted the national traveling exhibit, “Send Silence Packing” by Active Minds.
Active Minds is a national mental health advocacy group that seeks to get the conversation started and decrease stigmas with mental health. On April 27th, the Active Minds chapter at VCU hosted the touring exhibit to empower others to speak openly about mental health and educate those who are seeking help.
The “Send Silence Packing” exhibit displayed 1,100 donated backpacks in the middle of VCU’s campus to represent and honor the number of college students lost to suicide each year. According to Send Silent Packing’s website, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.
Andrea Nguyen, a junior psychology major and president of The VCU chapter of Active Minds, was proactive in getting VCU chosen as one of the 11 colleges on the East Coast to host the exhibit.
“We definitely need to start talking about it, that’s why it’s called “Send Silence Packing,” because so many who die by suicide, they never reached out and got help or anything because of the stigma so we are encouraging people to start a conversation to bring it out of the darkness,” she said.
Most of the backpacks were from family members or friends of those lost to suicide. Some were bought with donation funds that people had given to the actual organization, but about 300 backpacks were donated from families. Many of them even contained write ups telling the story of college students who were victims of suicide.
“It was a very impactful display, anyone can participate, some of the backpacks have personal stories in them and some of the backpacks even have objects in them that have been donated by friends and family,” said Nguyen.
VCU donated a backpack in honor of Corey Randall, a senior psychology/criminal justice major who committed suicide just two weeks before the event.
“I think that this event helped because we were healing from this,” she said. “We got his family to donate a story and they were very eager and willing to spread suicide awareness.”
And the response from the students toward the all-day exhibit was very positive according to Nguyen.
“A lot of people came since the area was right in the middle of campus, there were a steady 50 to 100 people reading stories all the time,” she said. “The people who were reading would stay and read more and kind of discuss with us, so to us that was a great indicator that people were willing to start the conversation on mental health. All of the feedback I’ve received has been super positive, people are really open to start advocating.”
The exhibit also served as a way for the college to spread resources for those seeking help or information on mental health.
“Active Minds had their own table…we had a table for the University counseling services and they had a lot of literature on stress and anxiety management, we had counselors on the grounds as well for any students in crisis, we also had some staffers from the College of Behavior and Emotional Health.”