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Backpacks on Display at WVC Aim to Raise Awareness of Suicide

A display of 1,100 backpacks – representing the more than 1,100 college students who die by suicide each year – will be in West Valley College’s Viking Grove with the aim of raising awareness of college student suicide. The exhibit, “Send Silence Packing,” will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on October 8.  

“We know that suicide is a huge issue in schools – high schools, colleges and universities,” said Becky Perelli, director of student health services at WVC. “I’m hoping that students gain awareness that this is an important issue, that they can be powerful in helping out a peer who they think is struggling and help refer them to get services. There are support services available for those students. We just need to get them there.” 

Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. 

The issue also hits close to home. Perelli said a WVC survey completed in spring 2013 showed that 23 percent of students surveyed said they had seriously considered suicide at some point. About 12 percent had attempted suicide. Almost 3 percent said they had attempted suicide within the last 12 months.

Nationally, students list anxiety and depression as among the top reasons they have difficulty with academic performance, Perelli said.

To give a face to the lives lost, personal stories and stories written by families and friends accompany the backpacks. Visitors to the exhibit can also learn about resources, both on-campus and off-campus, available to students. Additionally, Perelli said, mental health professionals will be on hand all day for students to consult with.

Send Silence Packing, a traveling exhibit, is an acclaimed suicide awareness program by the group Active Minds. In addition to shedding light on the issue of college student suicide, the exhibit also aims to promote a healthy dialogue around mental health and help people understand how they can be part of the solution.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit www.sendsilencepacking.org.