1,100 Backpacks Solemn Reminder of Those Lost

College Mental Health Coalition's Send Silence Packing exhibit visits Wesleyan University to spread the word that suicide is second leading cause of death among students.

The front lawn of Olin Library was a sea of colorful backpacks recently as a traveling public education exhibit spreading the word on the high rate of suicide among college students made an indelible mark against the cool green grass.

Send Silence Packing is a program of Active Minds, a nonprofit that engages college-age students to change the stigma and lack of conversation abourt mental health issues among young people.

Junior Vivianne Swerdlow, 22, sophomore Caroline Catlin, 20; sophomore Lydia Rex, 20; and junior Victoria Chu, 21 handed out information and spoke to passersby.

For Swerdlow, this day was personal. "I was pushed into a medical leave," she said when she first attended Wesleyan University from college stress-related issues. Since returning to campus, Swerdlow says the office of Counseling and Psychological Services has helped her immensely. "I no longer have to keep a stiff upper lip about [being depressed.]"

Active Minds works with student leaders on college campuses in nearly all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., Canada and Australia to:

  • Educate students so they know where to turn for help.
  • Empower students to engage peers, administrators and communities on every campus about mental health.
  • Teach student leaders to ensure the next generation of mental health advocates
  • Connect all who are passionate about college mental health to energize a movement for change.

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Active Minds was started by Alison Malmon when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, following the suicide of her older brother, Brian, one year earlier. Brian, also a college student, had been experiencing depression and psychosis for three years but had concealed his symptoms from everyone around him.

In the middle of his senior year, he returned to the family’s Potomac, Maryland home and began receiving treatment for what was later diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder. A year and a half later on March 24, 2000, as Alison was wrapping up her freshman year at Penn, Brian ended his life.

presents 1,100 backpacks and personal stories representing the 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year.

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