The national exhibit focuses on ending the silence that surrounds mental health and suicide, while also connecting visitors with resources for support and action.
College is a formative time for students when they gain some of their fondest memories and begin to discover themselves in a variety of ways. But there can also be an incredible amount of stress that comes along with being in college and an initiative coming to Elon University focuses on helping students feel supported during those important formative years.
The Send Silence Packing event will be held at Moseley West Lawn on Nov. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Send Silence Packing is an all-day exhibit of hundreds of backpacks that symbolize students who have committed suicide.
“It’s just a way of bringing the campus together and letting people know, ‘You’re not alone in your struggle,’” said Sophie Blumenfeld ‘23, public relations chair of Elon’s Active Minds chapter.
During the event, representatives from Elon University Counseling Services, SPARKS Peer Health Education and SPACE (Students Promoting Awareness, Change and Empowerment) will be in attendance to help educate students of the various resources available to them.
The exhibit will include more than 500 backpacks with personal stories from those who have lost loved ones to suicide and is designed to “raise awareness about the impact of suicide, connect individuals to mental health resources and inspire action for suicide prevention.”
Blumenfeld, as a psychology major and someone who has personally dealt with mental health issues, said she is “very passionate” about self-care. The Send Silence Packing exhibit seemed very genuine to her and not like a novelty around a popular topic.
“With stories from real people, it felt a lot more personal,” she said. “The families that donated their stories go into how [their loss] impacted them, so it’s just very touching and relatable.”
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that begins to show up around this time of year as we head into winter with shorter days and harsh weather. With stressful exams and papers coming up, the “winter blues” can be exacerbated. Blumenfeld said she hopes students will use the resources at their disposal to help cope.
“As it gets colder, it’s harder to maintain your mental health and on a college campus, mental health issues are very prevalent. So, I just hope that whoever goes take advantage of the resources,” she said.
Active Minds, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students, started the exhibit in 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Since then, Send Silence Packing has been on the road for over 10 years, been displayed over 200 times throughout the country and reached over a million visitors with messages of hope and help.
Blumenfield said these statistics — 39 percent of college students have experienced a mental health issue and nearly 66 percent of students with anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment — underscore why events like the one next Monday are important. Blumenfeld hopes the exhibit will raise awareness to this issue and begin the conversation about the severity of untreated mental health issues thus bringing resources closer to students.
Blumenfeld believes the event will elicit a “powerful message” across campus and bring together the Elon community, particularly those whose lives have been forever impacted by suicide.
Observers are invited to walk among the Send Silence Packing backpacks to see the photographs and read the stories attached to them. Many of the backpacks were donated by families who lost a loved one to suicide.
To address changing needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Active Minds launched a new companion exhibit designed to complement the in-person program – Send Silence Packing: Behind the Backpacks. The program is a virtual, immersive experience that gives users an in-depth look at the impact of suicide through personal stories, stigma reduction techniques and visual components.
Active Minds was founded by Alison Malmon in 2003 when she was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania after tragically losing her 22-year-old brother, and only sibling to suicide. The organization has grown to more than 600 chapters on the campuses of high schools, colleges, universities nationwide.
“I founded Active Minds as a freshman in college following the death of my brother, Brian, to suicide in order to end the stigma around mental health. Stigma is shame, shame causes silence and silence hurts us all,” said Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of Active Minds.
“Send Silence Packing is a highly visible way to combat that stigma, increase openness, and inspire action for suicide prevention,” she added. “Thank you, Elon University, for bringing the 2021 exhibit to your community to help continue to spread awareness and inspire action around mental health and suicide prevention efforts.”
Counseling appointments through Elon Counseling Services are available Monday through Friday during regular office hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be made by visiting their website.
For urgent mental health needs, access crisis assistance 24/7 by calling (336) 278-2222 to reach the Counselor-on-Call. For life-threatening emergencies, call 911 for immediate assistance.
The National Suicide Presentation Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255.