By Willy Aponte
On Monday morning, students and faculty witnessed a strange site as they made their way through campus. While passing by Edward’s Parade, which has been barren for most of winter and the beginning of this particularly cold spring, they came across rows upon rows of backpacks lined up on the grass. Several people approached the backpacks apprehensively throughout the day in attempt to answer the question — what is this all about?
That was the point.
The demonstration was hosted by an organization called Active Minds, which has a mission to educate people on the issue of mental health on college campuses all across America. On March 30th, it started its spring 2015 tour at Fordham University.
According to Emory University suicide statistics, there are more than one thousand yearly suicides on college campuses in the United States. It is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15-24.
Active Minds has a unique way of presenting this issue to college campuses. It has a nationally recognized exhibition of about one thousand one hundred book bags known as Send Silence Packing. It traditionally picks a spot on a campus that has a high amount of traffic to display the book bags collected from the loved ones affected by a suicide. Resting atop each book bag is personal story and a picture of a person who was a victim of mental health issues that led to suicide.
“I think this a powerful enough demonstration that will help incite conversation about the topic,” said Joe Azevedo GSB ‘15. “I think it is succeeding in what it’s intended to do, and it can help someone’s friend who did not know what to do.”
The event was brought together by the work of Jeffery Ng, director of Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services, the president and vice president of the developing Active Mind’s chapter at Fordham and several student organizers.
“There’s still so much stigma attached to mental illness, and the display really showed one of the negative effects of allowing stigma to rule us,” said Princess Chukwuneke, FCRH ’15 and a student organizer of the event. “I felt that by reading the stories of others just like themselves, Fordham students would be moved to pay more attention to those around them — to those who need help, but don’t know what to do, or who to speak to.”
Alison Malmon founded Active Minds while she was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Malmon’s brother, Brian Malmon, had taken his own life because of his struggles with mental illness. She had decided that it was time to take initiative and create an organization where people on college campuses could be informed on the taboo issues of mental health.
For several students on campus, this event hit close to home in all the right ways.
“I had a close friend that attempted suicide and her parents were too scared to deal with the situation,” shared Julian Morelli, FCRH ’15. “It felt as if the responsibility was placed on my shoulders, and that’s a scary position to be in. We need to feel comfortable amongst each other talking about suicide, so those who are having suicidal thoughts are comfortable seeking help.”
Raymond Ryder. GSB ’15, lost a close family member to mental health issues that resulted in suicide.
“You don’t really realize it’s a real thing until it happens to someone that you’re close to, or they talk about it,” Ryder said. “Once you see it first hand is when it really sticks, like ‘okay, this actually happens, it’s a problem…’ The demonstration is going to help people, sort of realize… alright this is an issue, it’s something we should look out for with our friends and our family.”