Send Silence Packing’unpacks at U.Va.
University chapter of Active Minds organizes event, raises mental health awareness
The University chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that seeks to mobilize students to combat stigmas surrounding mental health issues, Thursday is hosting “Send Silence Packing,” an exhibition geared toward increasing awareness about the prevalence of suicide among college students.
“Send Silence Packing” has toured colleges since its inception in Washington, D.C. in April 2008, but this is the first time it will come to the University. The event will visit Charlottesville as part of a southeast regional tour, and will include a display of 1,100 backpacks, many with letters and personal stories attached, to represent the number of college students who commit suicide each year.
“If you have physical disabilities you can see it as a problem, but mental is a little bit less clear,” said fourth-year College student Toby Loewenstein, co-president of Active Minds. “We want to create a more open environment, where you don’t feel like you have to hide something about yourself because you feel ashamed of it.”
Thursday’s event will feature two yoga sessions — at noon and 3 p.m. — as well as a speakers series, featuring Dr. Russell Federman, director of Counseling and Psychological Services and faculty advisor for U.Va Active Minds; Dr. James Turner, executive director of Student Health; and Lauren Anderson, a co-sponsor of the event and director of the Josh Anderson Foundation, an organization that aims to educate teenagers about mental health issues.
Active Minds has hosted several events geared toward combatting stigmas since it came to the University in spring 2011, including last October’s National Day Without Stigma. That event was spearheaded by fourth-year College student Meredith Was, co-president of the organization. Was said the events aim to raise awareness of mental health issues and to help students relieve stress.
“People feel like it’s a weakness, but it’s the same as a physical disease,” Was said. “You can’t blame someone for having cancer, you can’t blame someone for having depression.”
Mental health issues among college students were brought into the spotlight last November when Turner released a nationwide study that found the suicide rate among university students is much higher than the alcohol-related death rate. Outside vehicular accidents, the study found suicide to be the leading cause of death among college students.
Any intensely stressful period can bring about mental health problems, and university life is no exception, Federman said. “School is a 17-week pressure cooker,” he said. “I think pressure cookers affect mental health adversely.” The University has a suicide rate of roughly half that of comparable institutions, and about 15 percent of students seek some form of counseling services during their college careers.
But Federman suggested the true sources of concern are those students who don’t seek counseling services. “The time when you see successful suicide, it’s typically by individuals who aren’t engaged in treatment,” he said. This means part of the responsibility of getting students into treatment, he says, lies with their peers. “Just as students have a responsibility to intervene with domestic violence,” Federman said, “don’t we also have a responsibility to reach out to our fellow students if they’re really unhappy, sad and withdrawn?”
The University is currently exploring options to expand the available resources for Student Health Services, including changing hours of operation and looking into new areas for office space, but these are still in the exploratory phase. In the meantime, stop by the Lawn any time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday and take some time to understand mental health.