OSWEGO, NY – More than 1,000 backpacks were meticulously scattered about the campus quad today (April 18) at SUNY Oswego.
Many of them had the names of their “owners” affixed to them.
They came from a myriad backgrounds and hometowns; names like Mike, Brian, Meg, Kyle, Shari, Joe, Sam, and Mom. 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 is hosting ‘Send Silence Packing,’ local chapter founder Jo Molascon told Oswego County Today.
The public education display of 1,100 donated backpacks represents the 1,100 college students lost to suicide each year, she explained.
Active Minds: Send Silence Packing will be traveling to 13 cities in five states this spring. It started March 29 at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pa.
The response to the display has been positive, Molascon said.
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 outdoor 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 prepared statement. “Send Silence Packing carries the message that preventing suicide is not just about lowering statistics – but about saving lives.”
“Suicide is a topic that hits home to me personally,” Molascon said. “So, it’s something I’ve wanted to bring to this school since we started the chapter. We started it last December, so it’s a little over a year now.”
They have, on campus, “a good solid 25 or so active members” and they have an email list of more than 100 members, she said.
The chapter hosted a suicide prevention panel discussion Wednesday evening and is also planning a “de-stress fest” for the week before finals.
“It’s pretty touching,” said Suzanne Campbell, a chapter member, helping set up the display. “All of these are something to look at. They’re stories of people’s lives.”
“I hope people stop and look at (the backpacks) and want to learn about it and want to understand it,” she added. “It’s not something people tend to think about every day. So to have this ‘in their face’ hopefully will get them thinking. This isn’t to generate sadness; but to make the issue of suicide real. These could be anybody. Even if you don’t know them, you know that this is going on. These are anybody’s friends, families, loved ones.”
“Few people realize that suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses and is erasing the future of so many of our peers,” Molascon pointed out. “We’re so honored to host Send Silence Packing.”
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.
“I just want people to take a moment, not be scared by it, even though it is a scary thing, but just stop and realize that it could be anybody,” Campbell said. “We want them to say, ‘I love you’ and try to be there for other people.”
Information tables and activities were provided throughout the day where members passed out information about mental health, student suicide, and where to go to seek help.
Active Minds, Inc. is the leading voice for college student mental health in the United States. The national organization has collected and continues to collect backpacks and personal stories in memory of loved ones lost to suicide.
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.
For more information, visit www.activeminds.org