Backpacks give a face to suicide victims

Sunny Timbalia, senior business management major, browses through backpacks at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center on Wednesday. There were 1,100 backpacks in total and 300 of them had individual stories about suicides. Photo by Lindsay Frumker.

Erin Vanjo

An exhibit of 1,100 backpacks filled the Student Recreation and Wellness Center lobby Wednesday. Nearly half of them displayed letters from the family members and friends of suicide victims.

“It makes me want to cry,” said Victoria Meilinger, sophomore education, health and human services major. “I think it’s a great way to show how many people are affected by suicide.”

The event, called “Send Silence Packing,” focused on awareness about the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year. The student organization Active Minds hosted it in conjunction with the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation, University Health Services and the Office of Health Promotions.

“Some of the backpacks were the actual backpacks of a student who has lost their life,” said Nate King, sophomore integrated health studies and Active Minds member.

The stories attached to about half the backpacks gave a “face” to the lives lost to suicide, said Julia Lantry, senior biology major and president of Active Minds at Kent. She said the goal of “Send Silence Packing” was to promote dialogue about mental health issues on campus and to combat student suicide.

“We hope to remove the stigma associated with talking about both suicide and mental health issues,” Lantry said.

Along with the exhibit, counseling and health services were available all day for students or anyone who felt they needed support. There were baskets of differently colored bracelets available for anyone to take, each color representing either support of suicide prevention, someone who knows a victim of suicide or someone who has personally struggled.

Nathan Yanosick, freshman architecture major, said the experience was overwhelming for him because some of his friends have struggled with suicide.

“I want other students to understand that this is a serious issue and not always just someone wanting attention,” he said. “It’s usually legitimate.”

The national headquarters of Active Minds, Inc. chooses a select number of colleges each year and brings the “Send Silence Packing” event to their campuses. This is the first year Kent State was chosen. This exhibit is also visiting colleges in 14 cities and nine states from March through May.

“Having the event here touches Kent State University students and also the campus community,” said Sharon Briggs, Active Minds advisor.

Kristen Spiker, freshman pre-nursing major, said she wishes there were more events like this on campus.

“It makes you realize how many people in college commit suicide,” Spiker said. “It’s shocking to see it displayed in this way.”

Contact Erin Vanjo at [email protected].