The Grove was dotted with over 1,000 backpacks on Wednesday – with colorful messages of hope and encouragement – to remember college students who die by suicide every year. The exhibit was sponsored by the University of Mississippi chapter of Active Minds, their third “Send Silence Packing” event.
To Lydia Cates, a sophomore and the Active Minds media director, this event is not just about awareness. It serves as an active reminder that mental health, especially on college campuses, is paramount.
“It is important to go and seek help,” Cates said. “Go to the counseling center … And don’t let other people shame you out of going to an appointment even if you haven’t gone before, (if) you’re nervous or anything, just go. There’s nothing bad about trying it at least once.”
Send Silence Packing, an event started by Active Minds in 2008, is a public display in which backpacks are laid out and attached with the biographies of students who have committed suicide. Various groups also set up tables to provide information and resources to interested students.
Active Minds is a national non-profit organization that focuses on mental health awareness, support and education for young adults. More than 500 chapters are present in high schools and college campuses across the United States.
“Mental health is a really important issue that I think a lot of college students struggle with and are scared to talk about because of the stigma,” Nikki Sullivan, the president of Active Minds, said. The senior biology major from Birmingham, Alabama, has been a member of the organization since her freshman year.
“I think it’s really important that we do something to change the conversation and let people know that help is real and available,” she said. “I would just advise anyone that if they’re struggling, the brave thing to do is ask for help … Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage and strength.”
A study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders, a peer-reviewed medical journal, labels suicide as the second-leading cause of death, with approximately 1,100 deaths by suicide each year. Research from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration shows that suicidal thoughts and attempts are highest among people aged 18-25, 10.5% and 1.9%, respectively.
The University of Mississippi’s counseling center offers a number of services, including individual sessions, group therapy and couples counseling. Their website also houses an extensive directory of doctors and services in Oxford and links to information about mental health in the workplace or for minorities.
Tangela Foster, an allied health studies major from Jackson, believes that mental health resources are especially important for students of color.
“Not being the majority on campus …” she said, “you may overwork yourself trying to make sure you feel important.” She added that it’s challenging to go to the counseling center since there are few counselors of color, which makes it difficult for them to understand her side of a struggle.
“But they’re trying to bring more therapists of color in,” Foster said. “So, I applaud them for that.”
Students can expect familiar events from Active Minds, such as yoga in the Grove, tabling and more, in April for Mental Awareness Week. Anyone interested in getting involved with the organization can follow it on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and contact them to be added to their email list.