Iowa State hosts award winning Send Silence Packing suicide awareness display

Send Silence Packing Sign

Thomas Hugo

A basketball court in State Gymnasium was covered in more than 1,000 backpacks Tuesday.

The scene wasn’t a collection of lost backpacks, but a display that represented lives lost to suicide.

The display was Send Silence Packing, an award-winning exhibit by Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that supports mental health awareness and education for students.

The display visited 12 college campuses and high schools this fall, with Iowa State being its final stop of this season’s tour. Iowa State’s Suicide Awareness Organization brought the event to Iowa State and helped organize it.

Spread across the floor of one of the upstairs basketball courts were over 1,000 backpacks, with stories and pictures of those who died by suicide.

Surrounding the display were signs with messages of hope and encouragement such as “We may often suffer in silence, but we do NOT suffer alone.”

Near the entrance of the room and in the lobby of State Gym, tables were set up with handouts regarding mental health statistics, warning signs and resources.

The atmosphere in the gym was very solemn; students walked quietly around the edges of the display, bending down to read the tragic stories of young people who lost their lives to suicide.  

The stories attached to the backpacks varied greatly in tone and message. Tributes, goodbyes, testimonials and even messages of resentment made up the exhibit, each one giving a name to the collective face of those who die by suicide each year and those they leave behind.

Rob Schicker, 43, is a mental health counselor and has been working with Active Minds on Sending Silence Packing since last spring.

“There’s over 1,000 backpacks that represent the 1,300 to 1,500 college student suicides [a year],” Schicker said.

Schicker said the style of the visual display was inspired by The AIDS Memorial Quilt put on by the NAMES Project foundation.

“The backpacks have been donated by organizations. The stories have all been donated by survivors of suicide,” Schicker said. “Friends and family, or loved ones, can send in a story. We take the backpacks around and set them up on college campuses.”

According to Active Minds’s website, Send Silence Packing was unveiled for the first time in 2008 in Washington D.C. on the National Mall, with Congressman Patrick Henry delivering a keynote speech about Active Minds and the conversation about mental health.

“The program is designed to raise awareness about the incidence and impact of suicide, connect students to needed mental health resources, and inspire action for suicide prevention,” according to the website.

Since 2008, more than 260,430 people in more than 115 cities have experienced Send Silence Packing, according to Active Minds’s website.

Anyone who has a story about a friend or loved one that lost their life to suicide can submit their stories on Send Silence Packing’s website.

Editor’s note: The original article has been updated to show Suicide Awareness Organization’s part in the event. SAO brought the event to Iowa State and helped organize it. The Daily regrets the error.