Send Suicide Packing to help raise mental health awareness

Friendship Green was covered in backpacks Thursday as part of Send Silence Packing, an event that Gannon University hosted to raise mental health awareness and promote suicide prevention.

Send Silence Packing is an exhibit consisting of 1,100 backpacks that represent the number of students who die by suicide each year. Many of the backpacks were donated by a friend or family member and have a picture and a story, while others were donated by colleges or other organizations.

Visitors at the touring exhibit are invited to walk among the backpacks and read the stories. Many resources for mental health and suicide prevention are provided at each event put on by the national nonprofit Active Minds.

A conversation and talk back about Send Silence Packing’s stop at Gannon will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at The Knight Club.

According to the Active Minds website, the mission of Send Silence Packing is to end the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness and suicide.

Jodi Giacomelli, Ph.D., associate director of Student Counseling Services at Gannon said she has seen a higher number of serious mental health issues since Gannon’s Active Minds chapter started in 2009 and that what they see at Gannon matches national trends. .

Aside from helping students with mental health issues, Send Silence Packing aims to equip students to help their friends.

Eric Golembiewski toured with Send Silence Packing in the fall of 2018 and is now serving for five weeks with the fall 2019 tour. He said that people often will not feel comfortable talking to a family member or a teacher, so they will go to a friend.

“This is why it’s important that everyone knows the different kinds of warning signs for if someone is struggling and really how to help them if someone needs further assistance,” Golembiewski said.

Ally Owens, a senior and one of six members of the executive board of Gannon’s Active Minds chapter, said that the common story she sees among the backpacks is that friends and family had no idea the person was struggling, which she hopes will encourage people to check on those they care about.

Owens, who has served on the executive board for three years, said she has seen loved ones suffer from anxiety and that convinced her that mental illness requires treatment just as much as physical illness.

Many students who visited Send Silence Packing Thursday had strong reactions. Paribhu Thapa, a junior psychology major, said that it really helped her to read everyone’s stories and called the event amazing.

Meghan Vanessendelff, a junior criminal justice major , said, “Honestly, it’s an eye-opener. It’s really crazy.”

Sam Bigley, a senior majoring in medical lab science, summed up the mission of the event by saying, “For people who are going through this, it encourages them to find the help they need, because they think, ‘I don’t want to be a backpack.’” She went on to say that it encourages those who do not struggle with mental health to open their eyes and arms to those who do.

Send Silence Packing was first displayed on the National Mall in Washington in 2008. Since then it has traveled to over 200 cities, and it leaves many visitors wanting to learn more about mental health and how to help themselves and those around them.

Send Silence Packing is put on by the nonprofit Active Minds, which was started by Alison Malmon in 2001 after her brother Brian took his life. Active Minds now has well over 400 chapters nationwide.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Caroline Judd

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