“People like me don’t belong here. Life is going to be really good without me.”
OSWEGO, NY – Recently, hundreds of SUNY Oswego students and staff walked past more than 1,000 backpacks displayed from one end of the campus center to the other. Many people stopped to discover the reason behind the display.
The 1,100 backpacks weren’t abandoned by their owners; they were meticulously scattered about the facility on purpose.
Many of them had the names of their “owners” affixed to them.
They came from a myriad backgrounds and hometowns; names like Ariel, Chelsea, Tim and Drew. The common thread that will forever tie them to each other – they were all college students who took their own lives.
“In an effort to shine a light on the tragedy of college student suicide and start a dialogue about a heavily stigmatized topic, Active Minds at SUNY Oswego hosted ‘Send Silence Packing,’ Melanie Hoffman, Graduate Assistant and Graduate Intern at SUNY Oswego’ Counseling Services Center, Mary Walker Health Center, told Oswego County Today.
This year, Hoffman is adviser to the local Active Minds group.
The national organization has collected and continues to collect backpacks and personal stories in memory of loved ones lost to suicide.
The public education display of 1,100 donated backpacks represents the 1,100 college students lost to suicide each year, Hoffman explained.
The display provides a powerful opportunity to raise awareness at SUNY Oswego and let every student know that if they are depressed or suicidal they are not alone and there is help, she added.
Information tables and activities were provided throughout the center where members passed out information about mental health, student suicide, and where to go to seek help.
Active Minds: Send Silence Packing travels to many college campuses to spread the message.
The response to the display on campus was “amazing,” Hoffman said.
“We received a lot of feedback, had amazing conversations about mental health and suicide prevention and saw a lot of positivity on social media,” she said. “There is an app called Yik Yak that typically is used to bully others; but many people were posting about SSP on it and saying how important the display was or how it has helped them. It was so cool to see that.”
Ashley Darling has been the co-president of the college’s Active Minds chapter for two years.
“What we try to do is have as many learning and educational events on campus as we can. Having the Send Silence Packing display here is great. It really puts a face on the problem,” she said. “I have this strong passion for mental health. We’re trying to remove the stigma associated with mental illness.”
Few people realize that suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses, she added.
“Yes, it took a while and lot of effort, but it was so worth it and we had lots of great volunteers!” Hoffman said of the volunteers who assisted in placingthe backpacks and setting up the informational tables. “Ashley (Darling) was the co-president who worked incredibly hard with me and helped me with everything from funding, to working with the national office, to spreading awareness, to being present and amazing all through the day today. I don’t know what I would do without her to be honest.”
Other members who will be co-presidents next year (Jessica Bartkowski and Jackie McCarthy) were extremely instrumental in making the event such a success, and Hoffman added that she is excited to see them lead the club next year.
Active Minds was formed in 2001 by Alison Malmon during her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania following the suicide of her older brother, 22-year-old Brian Malmon.
“The impactful exhibit of 1,100 backpacks helps shed light on the tragedy of college student suicide and promotes a healthy dialogue around mental health. To give a ‘face’ to the lives lost, personal stories and stories written by families and friends accompany the backpacks,” she said in a previous press release when the group first visited Oswego.. “Send Silence Packing carries the message that preventing suicide is not just about lowering statistics – but about saving lives.”
Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or harming themselves, can call Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=2673A597-C29A-2288-2B53F6A193962909) at
1-888-511-SAVE (7283) or they can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24 hours a day / seven days a week.
About Active Minds
Active Minds is the leading voice in college student mental health and supports a rapidly growing network of more than 300 student-run chapters on colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada.
A national non-profit headquartered in Washington D.C., Active Minds empowers students to change the conversation about mental health one campus at a time.
All chapters work towards one goal: to create a campus culture where it is OK to speak openly about mental health and seek help.
For more information, visit www.activeminds.org