Op-Ed: Send Silence Packing

Monday, September 25, 2017 - 8:30pm

Suicide. A word that is uncomfortable for many to say because of the associated stigma, so it is exchanged for other words, or not said at all. 

Suicide. A word that many people on this campus have a personal connection to, whether because a loved one has attempted or died by suicide, or because of their own struggles with mental illness.

Suicide. A word we need to stop avoiding and to start talking about more. A word around which we need to send silence packing.

For me, the word suicide hits close to home. I have been hospitalized twice in the past year for suicidal thoughts. One of these hospitalizations was nearby, at Michigan Medicine, Ward 7C. It is part of my memory of Ann Arbor. I clearly remember the locked doors, the 15-minute checks and the hospital food. I also remember the kind nurses and the bonds I formed with fellow patients.

Yet, I know I am not the only University student who has struggled with these thoughts or been hospitalized. Suicide and suicidal thoughts are all too prevalent on college campuses. Each year, 1,100 students die by suicide on college campuses. It should also be noted that you don’t need to be hospitalized or have made an attempt for your experience and pain to be valid. All suffering is suffering.

It’s well known that mental illness and suicide are huge problems on college campuses. So, what do we do to make a difference?

There are many ways everyone can make a difference in decreasing suicide. Here are just a few ways:

1. Say the S-word.

Suicide. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to talk about, but with practice it becomes less uncomfortable. There is a misconception that talking about suicide will give someone the idea. We can save lives by talking about it.

2. Be mindful of your language.

Think twice before saying, “That makes me want to kill myself,” when you really mean, “That makes me frustrated.” Offhand comments like this make light of suicide and diminish the gravity of when someone truly means they are suicidal. We become desensitized and as a result, when someone reaches out for help, we might mistake it as a joke.

If, of course, you are suicidal, then definitely express this to someone you trust or to a professional (see below).

3. Show respect with your choice of words.

It is outdated to say “commit suicide,” and it is preferred to say “died by suicide.” The phrase “commit suicide” stems from a past where suicide was a criminal offense. By changing how we talk about these tragic deaths, we are acknowledging that these laws have fortunately changed, and people with mental illnesses are treated with more dignity now.

4. Ask if someone is OK.

It can be hard to tell if someone’s comment is a joke or real. It is safer to ask if someone is OK and to do this every time you hear something concerning. Most people who attempt suicide communicate their plans to someone in advance. Your questioning, though it may be awkward, could save someone’s life.

5. Know the resources available (see below).

Familiarize yourself with what is available on campus and beyond. Put emergency numbers and hotlines in your phone. You may need these one day for a friend or for yourself. Taking care of yourself is just as important, if not more important, as taking care of others.

In addition to being mindful of language, mental health awareness events are also important]. Active Minds, a student organization on campus I am proud to be a part of, is aiming to start a conversation about suicide on college campuses. We want to send silence packing, literally. On Oct. 10, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Diag will be filled with 1,100 backpacks, each backpack representing one of the college students who die by suicide each year. Several backpacks will also have personal stories attached to them, memorializing real students who have unfortunately passed. The project, Send Silence, is put on by the national Active Minds organization and tours college campuses across the country.

I encourage you to spend some time Oct. 10 walking through the Diag and reading these stories. Spend some time looking at the sheer number of backpacks and let the tragedy of those numbers sink in.

The Send Silence Packing event will likely be emotionally overwhelming for some. If that is the case, make sure you take care of yourself first and foremost. Practice self-care. Reach out for professional help, if necessary. And, most importantly, end the silence by talking to someone you trust.

In an ideal world, zero students, or people in general, would die by suicide each year. That may not be our reality yet, but through personal changes and events that raise awareness, such as Send Silence Packing, we can get closer to that reality every day.

Morgan Rondinelli is an LSA senior.

For more information about Send Silence Packing, visit http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/send-silence-packing

Mental Health Resources:

·        Life-threatening Emergencies: 911

·        National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

·        Crisis Text Line: 741741

·        Michigan Medicine Psychiatric Emergency Services: 734-936-5900

·        Counseling and Psychological Services 24 Hours: 734-764-8312

Other Resources at the University of Michigan:

         Counseling and Psychological Services


University Health Service


University Psychological Clinic


Services for Students with Disabilities


Dean of Students


Active Minds at the University of Michigan


Wolverine Support Network