Backpack Exhibit on Ring Road Hopes to Promote Student Suicide Awareness

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In an effort to raise awareness about student suicides on college campuses, a total of 1,100 backpacks donated by the families of suicide victims were dispersed throughout Ring Road and the Student Center Terrace at UCI last Friday.

The traveling exhibit, Send Silence Packing, is an initiative spearheaded by Active Minds, Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating student dialogue about mental health. Through Send Silence Packing, Active Minds seeks to educate students about mental health, suicide prevention, and resources where they can seek help.

“It never occurred to me how prevalent suicide is…You hear about suicides every so often, but actually seeing something that was a part of them and who they were as a person really hit me,” said an anonymous passerby when asked about the impact of the exhibit. “Reach out whether you are in need or someone else. Small things can save a life.”

The backpacks, which were donated by families of students who died from committing suicide, are meant to represent the number of university students who take their lives each year. To help humanize each life that was lost, every backpack was accompanied with a personal anecdote or testimony from friends and family of the victim.

Send Silence Packing first debuted at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2008, and has since expanded to over 98 cities throughout the country. Per the Active Minds webpage, 91 percent of those surveyed ranked the display as powerful and 83 percent felt that it was educational.

According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, over half of all college students have experienced suicidal thoughts, and one out of every 10 students have seriously contemplated suicide. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and mental health issues have been known to negatively affect the personal and academic lives of students.

While UC Irvine was not originally scheduled to be a part of the Fall 2015 tour for Send Silence Packing¸ the exhibit was displayed in conjunction with the 12th national Mental Health on Campus Conference by Active Minds at UCI over the weekend.

The three-day conference is the only national conference that focuses on the mental health of college students, and hopes to foster the growth of a new generation of mental health advocates. 

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