Display at GCCC shines light on mental health

Backpacks lie in the GCCC quad on Monday, May 6, as part of the “Send Silence Packing” exhibit designed to raise awareness about mental illness and suicide.
By SCOTT AUST
Director of Communications/Finney County Economic Development

Hundreds of backpacks lined the quad at Garden City Community College on Monday, each bearing tragic witness to college students lost to suicide.

Send Silence Packing, a traveling exhibit presented by Active Minds, the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for students, set up on campus for a one-day exhibition on Monday.

The exhibit visits multiple stops around the country each year with the purpose of ending the silence that surrounds mental illness and suicide. 

The all-day exhibit included personal stories from individuals who lost a loved one to suicide, and was designed to raise awareness about the impact of suicide, connect individuals to mental health resources, and inspire action for suicide prevention.

The backpacks included photographs and stories about young lives gone too soon. Many of the backpacks were donated by families who lost a student to suicide. The exhibit is designed to raise awareness about the impact of suicide, connect individuals to mental health resources, and inspire action for suicide prevention.   

Erin Simon, with Active Minds, said the Washington, D.C.-based organization works on mental health advocacy, outreach and awareness on college campuses throughout the country.

Active Minds was founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon, then a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, after losing her only sibling, her 22-year-old brother Brian Malmon, to suicide.

“She started it because she felt there was a big lack of resources on his campus, and that was where the idea for Active Minds was born, and also this campaign, Send Silence Packing,” Simon said. “We travel the country with our backpacks, and the backpacks represent the number of college students that die by suicide annually nationwide.”

Simon said the exhibit contains more than 1,000 backpacks but the group doesn’t like to focus on numbers due to a concern that it may normalize suicide among students, rather than where the focus should be — on prevention and awareness.

“It’s more about the visual, impactful representation, rather than the number itself,” she said, adding that the reception at GCCC was positive overall.

“We find that this is a great conversation starter for students. A lot of the time they may be going through something or know somebody who is and they haven’t known how to talk about it, or felt like they could. So this really gives them an opportunity to start having those conversations,” Simon said. “One of our big goals is to connect students to educational resources as well as informational or supportive.”

LiveWell Finney County, St. Catherine Hospital, Genesis Family Health, and Compass Behavioral Health partnered with the GCCC Student Government Association to bring Send Silence Packing program to Garden City.

Active Minds

Since its inaugural display on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 2008, Send Silence Packing has reached approximately 946,710 visitors in over 200 cities and counting with messages of hope and help. Evaluation data attests to the exhibit’s impact – most visitors leave wanting to learn more about mental health; the majority tell three or more people about the exhibit; and many reach out to a friend in need or seek help for themselves as a result of experiencing it.

More information about Send Silence Packing is available at activeminds.org/sendsilencepacking.

Resources for Suicide Prevention

For anyone thinking about suicide or worried about a friend in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text BRAVE to the Crisis Text Line at (741-741).

For resources on how to be a friend to someone who is struggling with a mental health issue, visit activeminds.org/beafriend.