Thousands of backpacks — 1,100 in total — covered the Diag Thursday afternoon, representing the average number of college students who commit suicide every year in the United States.
The display, titled Send Silence Packing, was organized by the University’s chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that aims to raise mental health awareness on college campuses. The event was sponsored by The George Orley Mental Wellness Initiative, an organization which works to combat stigma associated with mental illness and has teamed up with Central Student Government to support their Wolverine Support Network program.
The backpacks were collected in honor of students who have committed suicide. Many of the bags were dedicated to individual students and included fliers sharing memories about those lost.
One flier included a message from a mother about her son, Zachary Brunt, who committed suicide three years ago during his freshman year at Yale University.
“(Zach) was the last person anyone would ever associate with suicide because he was confident, engaged, curious, brilliant, handsome — the TOTAL package,” she wrote. “Please help us create a worthy legacy for Zach by getting help if you need it and by helping out friends in need.”
LSA junior Alexandria Kolenda, Active Minds active members chair, said the stigma attached to suicide and mental health issues make it more difficult for students to get help.
“I hope people learn to not be as afraid to talk about mental health issues and I hope people find their own voices,” Kolenda said. “I want them to know that they’re not alone. We have so many resources to help with this.”
Throughout the event, information was distributed by representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services, Pulse, Wolverine Support Network, the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Services for Students with Disabilities, the Spectrum Center and the Depression Center.
In addition to posters with facts about student suicide, Send Silence Packing featured memory boards for students to sign in solidarity with those suffering from mental illness and to share memories of friends lost to suicide.
Kinesiology sophomore Serena Saake said she found the visual nature of the display extremely powerful.
“The way it is spread across the Diag is really beautiful because of all the people coming through here all day every day,” Saake said. “You can really visualize how much suicide affects students.”
Rackham student Geneva Langeland said though she was initially confused by the backpacks covering the Diag, the display’s deeper meaning quickly dawned on her.
“I didn’t realize what was going on today so when I walked up and saw backpacks scattered I thought there had been some sort of student rapture, all these students doing homework out on the lawn and then they just disappeared,” she said. “And then, I kind of realized – that’s exactly what happened. There all these students that should have been here, and aren’t.”
Correction: The article has been updated to mention the George Orley Mental Wellness Iniatiative, which sponsored the event.