Backpack exhibit at UNI raises mental health awareness

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) – The power of a backpack.  Don’t underestimate it.  The University of Northern Iowa partnered with Active Minds to bring their exhibit called Send Silence Packing to campus Thursday.  Each backpack on display in the Maucker Union symbolizes a college student who took their own life.

Active Minds is a national organization dedicated to “ending the silence that surrounds mental health and suicide and connect visitors with resources for support and action.”  According to the organization, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.

Perhaps most impactful are the backpacks which have a description from loved ones of a student’s life leading up to their suicide.  From their battle in fighting depression and anxiety to just the person they were and their loves and interests, the photos and stories told humanize the display.  Like the story of UNI student, Kyle Raarup:

“I grew up in Minnesota, the youngest child of two great parents.  I had a very typical childhood.  I enjoyed playing with friends, driving my siblings crazy, playing sports, and I even liked school most of the time.

One part of me that I didn’t think was so typical was my struggles with anxiety and depression.  I became so anxious about going to school and doing well that I frequently cried in Elementary School.  I hated crying.  I hated anyone seeing me cry.  I tried so hard to keep my emotions in check and look “normal.”

By Junior High I started having trouble with concussions and this only made my anxiety and depression worse.  I had a hard time concentrating, I struggled with my emotions, I struggled to keep up in school.  I always thoughts I was the only one struggling this bad.

I continued to struggle through High School.  I had times of feeling like I was getting past it all, then something would happen and my headaches, anxiety and sadness would come back.  I tried to get help.  I took medication, went to therapy, tried seeing a chiropractor and physical therapist, anyone who thought they could help me.  Some people did help and the medication helped for periods of time.  I still had daily struggles that made my life so hard.

I attended college at University of Northern Iowa where I flourished.  I loved college and the friends I made there.  I was outgoing, cheerful, energetic, and fun to be around.  My Sophomore year I once again struggled with anxiety/depression, memory problems and a new stomach ailment.  I was in so much mental and physical pain and I felt that it would never go away.  I was completely overwhelmed and took my life on 11/12/15.  I did not know how much I would hurt everyone by doing this.  PLEASE TALK ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS, SHARE YOUR STORIES AND YOUR STRUGGLES……….. PEOPLE CARE!  YOU ARE IMPORTANT!”

The exhibit was at the University of Iowa Wednesday.  See that full KWWL report here.  Active Minds has visited more than 200 campuses to spread their message that help is available.

Learn more about Active Minds and the Send Silence Packing display 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.

Abby Turpin

Abby Turpin

Evening Anchor - KWWL News at 5, 6 and 10
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