James Madison University

Student Org Hosts Suicide Awareness Event

By: Daniel Vieth '15, '17
Posted: April 25, 2016

PHOTO: Backpack display

Each year in the U.S., suicide claims the lives of over 1,100 college students. Though it is difficult to talk about, suicide is a topic that must be addressed if there is any hope of helping those individuals in need. There is no better representation of this need than Active Minds’ ‘Send Silence Packing’ exhibition, a traveling display of 1,100 backpacks representing those lives lost to suicide on college campuses. Send Silence Packing tours college campuses each year to promote suicide awareness, including a stop at JMU this year. JMU’s chapter of Active Minds will be hosting the display on Monday, April 25, in front of Madison Union.

Active Minds is a national nonprofit organization devoted to increasing students’ awareness and education of mental health issues, as well as decreasing stigma surrounding mental health. JMU’s local chapter of Active Minds promotes these goals through events like Stress Less Week, Walk for Hope, Out of Darkness Walk, National Suicide Prevention Week, and now the Send Silence Packing exhibition. “[Active Minds] is still fairly unknown on campus,” explained Meredith Kurtz (‘16), a senior psychology major and president of JMU’s Active Minds chapter. “We’re hoping the [Send Silence Packing] event will not only bring awareness to mental health in general, but also provide awareness to the resources available to students who need help, such as Active Minds and the University Counseling Center.”

PHOTO: Backpack display

According to Kurtz, the 1,100 backpacks featured in the Send Silence Packing exhibit are a powerful display,  with many of the backpacks holding personal items and stories from actual student victims. “These backpacks travel to college campuses all around the U.S. to bring awareness to the severity and prevalence of suicide among the college population,” said Kurtz. “Suicide is a difficult topic, but it is something that needs to be discussed in order to try to prevent it. This display helps to spark that conversation.” This year’s event will be the first time JMU has hosted this event since 2010, when the backpacks were displayed on the Festival Lawn. “I have been told it was a very powerful event then,” Kurtz added. “I hope to be able to hear the same feedback this year!”

To help make the event happen, Active Minds was also assisted by a number of other student organizations on campus. “One of the greatest aspects about this event is the collaboration between various organization to come together to support a good cause,” Kurtz continued. “Active Minds has been able to gain volunteers from To Write Love on Her Arms, Psychology Peer Advisors, PSI CHI, and the Counseling Center Program Assistance, as well as nonprofit studies students in my capstone course who expressed interest in the event.” During the event, these students will be running a table with various activities for students to learn more about mental illness and partake in de-stressing activities. “These activities include therapeutic adult coloring books and making your own stress balls,” said Kurtz. “We hope to be able to bring awareness about mental health through this event, but also offer activities that allow students to exercise copings strategies.”

PHOTO: Backpack display

“I hope that Active Minds will be able to host this event in the future,” Kurtz continued. “Send Silence Packing would be a great tradition to uphold.” The 1,100 backpacks will be on display April 25th in front of the Madison Union building leading up to the Commons from 9am to 4pm. Students are encouraged to interact with the backpacks to learn more about issues of suicide prevention and self-care on campus. “Hopefully by the next time the exhibit comes to JMU, the number of backpacks on display will be decreased significantly,” added Kurtz. “Decreasing the average number of students that die by suicide each year, even just to 1,099, makes the event worth it.”