Backpack exhibit raises suicide prevention awareness

Today, on #MentalHealthAwarenessDay, more than 1,000 backpacks were spread across the University of Iowa campus. Each represents a college student who died by suicide. The purpose is to end the stigma of mental health on college campuses. More details tonight at 10.

Posted by KWWL on Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Over 1,000 backpacks were scattered across the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest lawn. Each represented a college student who died by suicide.

The University of Iowa partnered with the national Active Minds organization to bring the exhibit “Send Silence Packing” to campus on Wednesday afternoon for the first time in four years. Coincidentally, the day fell on October 10, World Mental Health Awareness Day.

“I think it does make it a little bit more prevalent but it was a happy accident,” Sammy Stoll, the president of the UI Active Minds chapter.

On some of the backpacks were photos of college students who died by suicide with stories from loved ones. Many of the personal accounts pleaded with people to get help if they are struggling. Some of the backpacks were the ones used by the student that died.

“I think having a name and a face and the stories really shows that these students are more than just a statistic,” Cournet Burke said.

Burke, a tour coordinator with Active Minds, said suicide is the second leading cause of death among college-aged students. Burke said the exhibit sparks conversations that can point students to resources that can be life-saving.

“[It’s] to show that there is help out there, that your story doesn’t have to end this way,” she said.

Stoll said the exhibit is to normalize the conversation around mental health on a college campus, which she said has a stigma around it.

“It’s just to show students that they are not alone and just kind of read that and also advocating that they reach out to their resources which is why we have tabling, we have counseling staff here, as well. So, it’s starting that conversation about mental health, making sure it’s prevalent on campus and making sure students are getting the resources,” she said.

The exhibit caught the eyes of many students who were on their way to classes. One of them was UI junior Kody Meyer. Meyer said she had originally planned to avoid seeing the exhibit because of her own experiences with depression.

“A lot of is knowing that I very easily could have been one of these backpacks,” Meyer said.

Ultimately, she said she felt it was important to acknowledge the people who had died.

“Every time I read a different story, I can always find something that I relate to, something that could have easily been me,” she said. “I wish all of these didn’t happen but at least they are telling other people their story.”

Meyer said the personal stories show that it cannot be said enough, that no one is alone in their struggle.

Active Minds has visited more than 200 campuses. On Thursday, October 11, Active Minds will bring the exhibit to the University of Northern Iowa.

More information on services provided by the University of Iowa can be found here.

The display was at the University of Northern Iowa Thursday.  See that report from KWWL’s Abby Turpin here.

Are you in crisis? Text BRAVE to 741-741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for free, 24/7, and confidential support.

Jalyn Souchek

Jalyn Souchek

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