Stigma is shame.
Shame causes silence.
Silence hurts us all.
These powerful phrases were attached to backpacks that were scattered across Riverside City College’s A.G. Paul Quadrangle on April 24.
Send Silence Packing is a nationally recognized exhibit that uses donated backpacks to represent a deafening silence in discussion of campus suicides and mental health.
Active Minds, an organization that focuses on destigmatizing mental illness, reports that more than 1,000 college students die by suicide each year. However, according to a report by NPR, the number could be greater considering most public colleges don’t track the number of suicides on their campuses.
Additionally, many of the backpacks had personal stories attached to them. The Active Minds website states that the stories are written and donated by “individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide.”
“I think it’s cool to see the actual number,” RCC student Layla Cortez said. “It’s one thing to have it in your head, but to see the number of backpacks of students each year is another thing entirely. I think it is a noninvasive way of bringing awareness to mental health and suicide.”
Exhibits such as the Send Silence Packing display aim to spark conversation among students and can help encourage them to see the impact of mental health. It can also prompt students to seek out what they can do to help themselves, their fellow peers or their loved ones.
“A lot of people don’t have that comfort of talking about mental health yet,” RCC student Albert Limreck said. “The exhibit shows that they can still get that message and see there is help. And the more that we can talk about it or get that message out, the more help people can get.”
Alexis Ruiz, a staff coordinator for Send Silence Packing, explains that the goal of this event was to highlight the variety of mental health services offered to students.
“I think it’s incredibly important and it’s needed,” Ruiz said. “It’s relevant right now (because) the numbers are increasing and we want to do everything we can to make sure everyone feels like they can reach out for help.”
Ruiz elaborates that there isn’t enough mental health funding throughout the nation to get students the services they need.
“More trained psychologists, more help should be made available on campus, not just outside of the campus,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz points out that the transition from high school to college can be stressful for students. NBC reports that college counselors are seeing a record number of students dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
“Every college we’ve gone to, it’s difficult because we keep hearing students say that the wait list is two months (or) a couple weeks, but people need help now,” Ruiz said.
While there are resources such as the Crisis Text Line to help students right away, Ruiz said that there should be more staff available in-person on the campus to help students as soon as they need it.
Currently, RCC offers free one-on-one counseling and wellness workshops with a mental health professional to registered students. Their clinic hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Ruiz further comments that mental health awareness should be a part of the curriculum in every class and training offered at all colleges.
“Most people don’t take mental health as serious as physical health, but it’s important that if you see any change in another person’s habits or even if you see that change in yourself, take it very seriously,” Ruiz said. “Reach out and ask for help.”