Sheila Grove

Backpacks donated by families tell stories
of lives cut short.          photo/Sheila Grove

ERIE  - On Thursday, September 19, Gannon University’s chapter of Active Minds hosted “Send Silence Packing”, a traveling exhibit of 1,000 backpacks representing the 1,000+ college students who die by suicide each year. Backpacks, many donated by family members, contain letters and personal effects and are accompanied by stories of victims’ lives. Suicide is second only to vehicle accidents in causing death for college students. Active Minds is a national student-led organization dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness and supporting students living with its challenge. 

The day began with prayer led by Father Michael Kesicki, Associate Vice President for Mission and Ministry, who shared these thoughts.  “We want to send packing, the silence of loneliness, isolation and abandonment. We embrace the silence of solitude, reverence, awe and respect for all those who have committed to this work, raising the conversation so that those who suffer in loneliness receive the presence of others to walk with them, advocate for them and bring them to meaningful place of light and peace, purpose and  hopefulness…. We are called to be as Christ and bid each other to arise; to arise from grief, to arise from isolation, to arise from loneliness, to arise from abandonment, to arise and walk in the knowledge and confidence that no one walks alone.”   

According to Send Silence Packing, 39 percent of college students have a mental illness. However, because mental illnesses are treatable, 85 percent of those with mental illness do not die by suicide. Send Silence Packing is hopeful this percentage will increase as the silence around mental illness and suicide decreases.  “We, as Active Minds, are working diligently to reduce the stigma with mental health,” said Staff Therapist in Gannon University’s Counseling Services, Alyson Eagle, LPC, NCC. “At Gannon University, we encourage our students to seek services and assistance if needed and want every student to know that they are not alone.” 

A student stops to read the story of a life lost
to suicide.                        photo/Sheila Grove