1,000 backpacks laid out on Warren Alpert Mall for suicide prevention awareness
Active Minds is trying to tackle the stigmas and statistics associated with suicide in their traveling exhibit
Picture in your mind the happiest person you know. They laugh all the time, rarely seem gloomy and always appear upbeat. But the troubling thing about depression and suicide is that it almost always tends to lurk far beneath the surface.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with 44,193 Americans dying by suicide annually according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Within those statistics, an estimated 1,300 to 1,500 are college students.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around statistics when you’re given numbers are high as these. But Active Minds, an nation-wide organization that has a chapter right here at BU, set out on to help people do just that: put a meaning behind the numbers.
On Thursday, the Active Minds organization came out to Boston University for the first time ever. They worked to set up the monumental showcase of over 1,000 backpacks across the Warren Alpert Mall, just behind the BU Beach, sprawling the symbolic graves across the grass where students would normally sit and study. Each backpack has been donated by a real family member or friend who has been affected by suicide, some of whom have attached photos and stories of the loved ones they’ve lost.
The sight at first is overwhelming. Backpacks aren’t something we think about very often, but everybody has one, and we see thousands everyday attached to student’s backs walking across campus. They’re a part of our academic livelihoods, but moreover, they represent people. These backpacks had lost their bodies. They simply held memories now.
Paired with the exhibition of ghostly backpacks were a series of signs that held vital messages for helping anyone who may be in need. Several bore hotline numbers, while others simply offered comforting messages to their passerby. “Keep asking and keep searching until something helps. Something will,” one sign read, placed towards the exhibition’s GSU-side entrance.
But the exhibition hopes to battle more than just hard-to-understand statistics. One of its biggest goals is to take down the stigma that keeps many from reporting their struggles. These are human lives at stake, up against battles with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and many more. Mental health is not something to be taken lightly or to be thought lesser of. Mental health is very, very real, as all of these backpacks have proven today.
The organization’s team members, who have been traveling since early September with the Send Silence Packing® program, are normally based out of Washington, D.C. Thanks to BU’s own Active Minds chapter, the D.C. team received the call to come to our Charles River campus and spread the message of suicide impact and prevention.
Taylor is a tour coordinator and one representative of the Active Minds national board, who says the organization has been doing this specific "Send Silence Packing" tour since 2008, each segment running through the fall and then in the spring. She says that they usually run with 12-13 stops along the way, going to college campuses all across the country. This fall, they’ve scheduled to visit mainly New England schools, but in other semesters have been known to visit the South, Midwest, and the West.
The annual suicide rate amongst college students actually used to be lower, according to Taylor, which is why they showcase 1,000 backpacks at the exhibition. Now, however, “it has risen to 1,300-1,500 students each year,” Taylor said.
BU was the fifth stop on their fall New England tour, with their sixth being Lesley School of Design just across the river in Cambridge. To see the exhibition for yourself if you missed it on Thursday, just hop on the T or take an Uber to Lesley University in Cambridge on Monday, October 2nd.
If you or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please do not hesitate to call the hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “BRAVE” to 741-741.