Gannon sends suicide packing

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Send Silence Packing was the focal point of Gannon University’s lawns Tuesday as the campus overflowed with 1,100 backpacks representing the number of college students lost to suicide each year.

A.J.’s Way and Friendship Green promoted a dialogue around suicide and mental health with the 1,100 backpacks that were donated in memory of loved ones who have died by suicide.

The powerful display put a face to those lives lost and brought the severity of suicide among college students into the daily conversation.

The backpacks were part of an event called Send Silence Packing, which is headed by Active Minds Inc.  It aims to raise awareness for the second top cause of death for college students by placing the backpacks in traffic-filled spots on campuses.

Lee Duffy-Ledbetter, an organization member who travels with the display, said the group does two tours a year and stops at about 24 schools.  He said the Northeast tour has already been to Philadelphia and New York and will be stopping at Allentown and Penn State next.

Send Silence Packing was run by Active Minds with funding from Stairways Behavioral Health, the Activities Programming Board, Student Government Association and CHESS.

David McCartney, a senior biology major and the vice president of Active Minds, said the rest fell on the club.

McCartney said the club did fundraisers like selling T-shirts and heart cookies to fund the event, which had been in the planning stages for a year.

“We had to make sure everyone was on the same page,” McCartney said. “If we didn’t have the community partners this event wouldn’t be as effective as it is. A great shout out to everyone who volunteered because without them, we wouldn’t be able to have this.”

Gannon is one of 12 campuses to participate during this spring 2015 tour across the Northeast and it was the first in the area to hold the event.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Active Minds brought the statistics to everyone’s attention.

Jennifer Malloy, a senior physician assistant major and student ambassador, said the display was very thoughtful.

“It makes you think a lot,” Malloy said. “And it’s somber, I mean, [this] is a lot of backpacks.”

Jordan Burns, a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling and an intern at the university counseling center, said the event is great.

“The visual aspect has been the most powerful,” Burns said. “A lot of students were rushed to get to class, but a lot of people came back to look.”

She said the pictures attached to the backpacks helped to make it personal and interesting to students.

McCartney said 200 of the backpacks had faces.

“It makes it more real and moving – it’s not just an event,” McCartney said. “The impact is easy to see.  People [have] walked by, telling me they felt sad, which is how they should feel, but they’re not despairing.

“It’s great to have the Gannon community come together and have a healthy conversation about suicide and not come together in a bad way because we didn’t have it before.”

KELSEY GHERING

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KAYLA VILLANO

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