UCSB Backpack Display Raises Awareness of College Suicide

‘Send Silence Packing’ Exhibit Symbolizes 1,100 Students Lost to Suicide Each Year

The Send Silence Packing exhibit Monday at UCSB displayed 1,100 backpacks to represent the number of college students who commit suicide each year.

Active Minds and Mental Wellness Center, two nonprofit organizations focused on raising awareness about suicide prevention, hosted a Send Silence Packing exhibit Monday at UCSB’s Student Resources Building, where they lined the lawn with 1,100 backpacks to represent the number of college students who take their lives every year.

Passersby were invited to walk along the exhibit, where friends’ and family members’ memorial letters were attached to a number of the displayed backpacks. The testimonies told stories of the students who have been lost, and many included pictures. According to Send Silence Packing coordinator Lee Duffy-Ledbetter, families directly affected by suicide donated about a quarter of the backpacks.

Though this exhibit has never come to Santa Barbara before, Active Minds has displayed Send Silence Packing at over 100 locations nationwide, beginning with Washington D.C.’s National Mall in 2008. Since then, more than 320,000 people have experienced the backpack display, as stated on the Active Minds website. So far, Active Minds has established chapters in over 400 colleges and universities, where, Duffy-Ledbetter said, “students are pretty receptive to the message and also thankful” for exhibits like Send Silence Packing.

Aside from the nonprofit’s national initiatives, each Active Minds chapter is involved with local mental health organizations. For example, co-presidents of UCSB’s chapter Melissa Boomer and Urvashi Singh partnered with Santa Barbara nonprofit Mental Wellness Center on Send Silence Packing in order to bring attention not only to the depth and impact of suicide, but also to accessible prevention tools and services for students who need help. Boomer and Singh also host social events at least once a quarter to help students unwind.

“Being selected as one of only a handful of California schools in 2015 to host this display was no small feat,” said Ryan Sims, staff advisor to Active Minds and Associate Director of Student Mental Health Coordination Services at UCSB. Sims hopes that “this display will inspire students at UCSB to join Active Minds in record numbers this year and assist the chapter in their education and advocacy efforts to destigmatize mental illness and encourage students to seek help as soon as help is needed.”

Annmarie Cameron, CEO of the Mental Wellness Center, added that UCSB’s exhibit took nearly three years to coordinate and plan. Cameron emphasized that mental health problems can have dire consequences for college students. “Stigma is a major reason why students don’t seek the help they need. And when it comes to suicide, that help could save their lives,” Cameron said in a press release from Active Minds and the Mental Wellness Center. Ultimately, the Send Silence Packing campaign intends to raise awareness about suicide and shift popular approaches to mental health issues.

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