When the silence screamed

The sight brought some to tears. For others, it sparked conversation. Few, if any, ignored the overwhelming optics of it all — and that was mostly the point.

The registered student organization Active Minds and its national affiliate generated buzz on SVSU’s campus — and beyond — in October 2017 with an exhibition that involved members placing more than 1,000 backpacks in the campus courtyard for one day. Each backpack was meant to serve as a visual representation of individuals lost to suicide. Attached to some of the items were photos, letters and stories related to those individuals.

The resulting campaign offered a message Active Minds members hope makes a lifelong impression on those who witnessed it.

“It’s about the visual representation,” said Bonny Rye, an SVSU adjunct faculty member who until recently served as the adviser for SVSU’s Active Minds chapter.

“People don’t really talk about the statistics of suicide very much and to actually see it physically laid out on campus makes a pretty moving statement.”

Rye and students involved in Active Minds set up tables in the courtyard during the event, which was part of the national affiliate’s “Send Silence Packing” program.

The awareness-raising campaign involved displaying the backpacks and accompanying stories on campuses across the U.S. SVSU was one of 12 stops on the tour nationally and one of two destinations in the state.

Becca Sharp, a Cadillac native pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy, said the initiative accomplished the group’s goal of raising awareness about suicide prevention. Several local media outlets visited the campus to cover the event.

“A lot of people were talking about what they saw,” said Sharp, who at the time served as the SVSU chapter’s president.

Rye, Sharp and members of SVSU’s Active Minds chapter were on hand to talk to students and visitors who became emotional at the sight.

“Those feelings are entirely valid,” Rye said. “We want to welcome students to talk about current or past struggles and encourage them to ask for help if they think they need it.”

Active Minds is an international organization with more than 400 chapters on campuses from California to Australia. In an effort to promote suicide awareness, SVSU’s chapter was established in 2013.

Active Minds engages with students on campus through many different events. One of the most popular is a tie-dying event aptly titled “All Tied Up.” Students congregate in the courtyard to tie-dye Active Minds T-shirts each fall semester. The T-shirt features the Active Minds logo and the number for the suicide prevention hotline on the back.

“There are a lot of resources here for talking about suicide and depression or even helping a friend,” Rye said.

Programs such as this are geared toward starting a positive conversation about mental health and wellness, she said.

Active Minds student representatives use these opportunities to convey one important message: It’s okay to talk about mental health.

“Positive conversation reminds people that it’s not shameful,” Rye said.

Sharp, who remains a member of the SVSU chapter, said the “Send Silence Packing” event was the most impactful initiative during her time with the group. She hopes Active Minds can continue similar high-profile, awareness-raising national programs at SVSU.

“I’ve seen people in my own life struggling with mental health,” Sharp said.

“Knowing that we are helping to raise awareness on these issues is huge, and it needs to keep happening. Helping even one person on this campus makes it all worth it.”

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