What resembles a cemetery with backpacks as grave markers is being laid out in Turlock on Wednesday and in Modesto on Thursday.
The free, traveling exhibit Send Silence Packing aims to end the silence that surrounds mental illness and suicide. Passersby are invited to walk among the 1,000 or so backpacks to see the photographs and read the stories attached to them. Many of the backpacks were donated by families who lost a student to suicide, according to a news release from Modesto Junior College.
Students’ mental health is one of the primary health concerns at college campuses nationwide, said Megan Rowe, health education coordinator at Stanislaus State. “If you look at national college health assessments, stress is the number one thing students identify,” she said. Within the top 10, anxiety is second and depression is fifth.
A health education page on the Stanislaus State website states, “Within the last 12 months, 29.4 percent of Stan State students reported stress as the number one factor affecting their individual academic performance.”
There is a push on campuses for increased mental health programing and more psychological counseling services, Rowe said. Unfortunately, college life typically is not an environment that encourages conversations among students about mental health, she said, but it’s crucial to encourage them to share that they’re feeling stressed or depressed.
“A big portion (of raising awareness and increasing communication) is to educate students about resources on campus and in the community. We don’t want to ignore that stressors happen. We can’t always provide them, but students need to know their internal strengths and the tools we have to deal with the stressors so they can live long, happy lives.”
Send Silence Packing is a project of Active Minds, a charitable nonprofit organization founded by Alison Malmon when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, following the suicide of her older brother, and only sibling, Brian.
The backpack exhibit debuted in 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Since then, it’s been visited by nearly 950,000 people at more than 200 stops, according to Active Minds.
Active Minds staff and volunteers are on hand at each stop, as are trained professionals. People are encouraged to seek out helpful resources for themselves, friends, or loved ones. The Turlock and Modesto stops are presented and funded by a partnership that includes Stanislaus County Behavioral Heath and Recovery Services and the county Office of Education, Rowe said. Student organizations and community volunteers also are contributing.
At Stan State, the exhibit is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the quad lawn. Should the weather turn bad or the lawn prove too wet, the backup location is the campus library. Visitor parking is available at lot 2, at Crowell and Monte Vista. No pass is needed.
At MJC on Thursday, the exhibit is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the East Campus Quad, 435 College Ave. Campus parking in student lots is free on the East Campus during the exhibit hours.
More information about Send Silence Packing is available at activeminds.org/sendsilencepacking.
Anyone thinking about suicide or worried about a friend or relative in crisis is urged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 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.