Active Minds and Mason Organizations Present Powerful Message

by Anne Reynolds

Active Minds and Mason Organizations Present Powerful Message

Wednesday, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day, and to help open a conversation about mental health on campus, George Mason University has joined with national awareness campaign Active Minds to host a traveling exhibit, Send Silence Packing. 

Active Minds was launched in 2003 by then college junior Alison Malmon after she lost her 27 year old brother to suicide. The group supports a growing network of hundreds of student-led chapters at colleges and universities, with a goal of helping students to speak openly about mental health, providing resources and information, breaking down the stigma associated with mental health issues, and educating students to seek help for themselves or their peers.

Mason's Active Minds chapter was founded in September 2011. It works closely with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Mason CARES program, which offers “gatekeeper” training to help identify warning signs of suicide, and the university's Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education and Services (WAVES) office. Chapter volunteers and representatives from its leadership team greeted visitors to the exhibit and offered information about the display and about mental health services available on campus and in the community. 

The Send Silence Packing exhibit aims to illustrate and educate the public about the impact and scope of suicide on college campuses. The exhibit comprises 1,100 backpacks, representing the number of college students who die from suicide each year. Since its debut on the National Mall in 2008, it has traveled to more than 75 cities and has been experienced by more than 300,000 people. Opening its 2014 fall tour at Mason, the display will travel to sites throughout the south over the coming months.

The backpacks are often donated by suicide victims’ families in memory of a lost loved one. Many of the backpacks include a narrative – and often a photo – of the victim, to drive home the message that campus suicide is about individuals, not merely statistics.

The busy central location of the exhibit, on the North Plaza at Mason’s Fairfax Campus, included representatives from CAPS, WAVES, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Trevor Project, the Wounded Warrior Project, and Mason CARES, who provided a host of resources for mental health and wellness information.

The Mason chapter of Active Minds meets on Tuesday evenings in the Johnson Center, and welcomes new members to work on projects throughout the year, such as the National Day Without Stigma, PostSecretU, and Stress Less Weeks during exam periods.