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'Send Silence Packing' exhibit creates conversation about student suicide

Send Silence Packing Exhibit
Posted at 5:47 PM, Aug 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-31 19:18:53-04

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — One nonprofit is raising awareness on the stigma around mental health. It's creating conversation about an uncomfortable subject, student suicide.

The sun shines blissfully through the clear blue skies. For many it's a beautiful day, but for some there's darkness in the light. That's shown through the hundred backpacks that hang in the walkway at the University of Maryland (UMD).

Each backpack tells the story of someone who has dealt with struggle, hope or has lost someone to suicide. Spreading the message; it's ok to not be ok.

It's part of "Send Silence Packing", a suicide prevention exhibit created by the nonprofit Active Minds.

"So the backpacks are kind of like a way to say lets share the load and talk about it together,” said Krista Cantrell, Active Minds Send Silence Packing Manager.

The nonprofit has been spreading hope for the last 15 years, sending one message.

"Help is available, people are here for you and to just reach out when you need. Cause there's people that care,” said Cantrell.

For one student, reading the backpacks triggers a time when he had to overcome a struggle himself.

"These are real things that happen to real people, like people that were lost and that are still struggling. I feel it's important to know what happened to people. Mental health isn't like easy for everyone, I’ve ignored it myself and it's not fun,” said Alejandro Flores-Chevere, who is a UMD senior.

The exhibit also features a "Behind the Backpacks" tent where students could partake in audio storytelling. Also there was a "Hope Wall" where a message could be written and displayed for someone who is struggling.

"This is something very new that we're dealing with, something our parents aren't quite used to so it's hard for them to even teach their children how to be open and how to be vulnerable,” said Robert Smith, who is a UMD football player.

Smith said as an athlete he's expected to stand strong and keep a straight face and at times showing emotions can be stigmatizing.

"If you're an athlete you got your brothers depending on you in the locker room and you're also competing and when you want to compete you don't want to show any signs of vulnerability, you don't want to show any signs of being soft,” said Smith.

Smith said it's an obstacle he's learned to deal with and has become invested in sharing this with others.

"I think it's big for us to be able to write things down and write our emotions down and get our emotions out, and be able to communicate how we're feeling because if we can't say how we're feeling ourselves, it's going to be impossible for us to talk to someone else,” said Smith.

The nonprofit Active Minds will travel to 40 schools over the next year.