Organization holds event to recognize student suicide

by Associate Life Editor Tyler Hargett

A backpack is a standard item for back-to-school shopping, but Active Minds, a nonprofit organization, will use this item to represent the thousands of students who commit suicide every year.

To remember those students and raise awareness of student suicide, UNA will feature the Active Minds Send Silence Packing exhibit, a walk-through display of 1,100 backpacks that represent lost student lives.

Send Silence Packing is hosted annually at different campuses as part of a nationwide tour. By displaying personal stories and photographs with the backpacks, the number of lost lives become more than just a statistic.

Students can visit the exhibit March 16 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Memorial Amphitheater.

“I think it is unacceptable that people go without help and go unnoticed (each year),” said senior Chloe Allen, president of UNA Active Minds. “I don’t think you can hear a statistic like that and just let it go. I think it’s something that needs to be addressed, and the only way to change it is to take action and have groups like this.”

Families of student suicide victims donate many of the backpacks, Allen said.

Allen said this event is one of the “biggest (they) have ever done.”

Representatives from the national organization, members of UNA athletics’ Connect1 project and Student Counseling Services will be at the event and have tables promoting their organizations and providing information on the event.

“Students need us and need to know that there are other kids on campus that deal with mental illness,” Allen said. “We let them know ‘We’re here, we exist and it’s OK to talk about it.’ This event allows us to do this.”

Director of UNA athletics Mark Linder said it is important for students to attend to become aware of issues others may face.

“Send Silence Packing is an impressive and impactful event,” he said. “I hope it will touch people so that they have a sense of hope.”

Students will benefit from seeing the display, said freshman Ian Romine.

“It gives you a visual and something to think about,” Romine said. “If you ever see somebody that might need help, go out and talk to them. They may need it.”

Alison Malmon, a then-junior at the University of Pennsylvania, started Active Minds in the early 2000s, and she began Send Silence Packing in 2008.

After her older brother, Brian Malmon, committed suicide toward the end of her freshman year, she began a group to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage early help-seeking to prevent students from sharing her brother’s fate.

After a successful first year, the program began spreading to other campuses, eventually gaining a national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and becoming Active Minds, Inc., in 2003. Today, over 400 college campuses are involved with the organization, and Malmon serves as the executive director.

The organization continues to collect backpacks to honor student suicide victims. If students have personally been affected by suicide, they may send their story to www.activeminds.org/shareyourstory.