By Kenia Marrufo
Many people don’t listen to the early signs of suicide. Many don’t care to speak about it. The truth is some don’t care until it’s too late.
Active Minds, a non-profit organization that supports mental health awareness displayed their annual “Send Silent Packing” exhibit differently this year by displaying it at the Main Street Pedestrian Mall in downtown Riverside on April 22.
Over 1,200 backpacks were lined up to create an accessible layout for the attendees to have a view of each attached personal story of college students from around the nation who have became victims of suicide.
“Everyone at some point has been affected by suicide whether its a best friend, teacher, mother or a father,” Courtney Burk, tour coordinator of Active Minds said. “I think for the community to see how prevalent it is it really gets the conversation going.”
The installment is often seen at college campuses nationwide but this time Active Minds partnered with the Riverside University Health System- Behavioral Health-Prevention and Early Intervention to give the community of Riverside a chance to attend.
Guest speaker Kevin Briggs, a retired highway patrol officer and business owner of the crisis management program Pivotal Points, spoke about how suicide took a toll not only in his personal life, but also in what he saw in his profession.
Throughout his 23 years of being a highway patrol officer, he had around four to six cases a month regarding someone who attempted suicide.
“We are losing 40,000 people a year in traffic accident fatalities. We are losing over 47,000 people of year to suicide. We are losing more folks to suicide than traffic accidents. We are losing a lot of people to suicide when we don’t have to if we learn to better communicate,” Briggs said.
Briggs encourages current and future officers to take as many classes as possible to help them understand how to better prevent further incidents.
As suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death for ages 15-25, programs like the Teen Suicide Prevention targets the younger generation to break down the silent stigma of suicide by visiting middle schools and high schools daily.
“The goal of our program is to make sure that no one falls in between the cracks or goes unnoticed and that we are just trying to teach our young people about how to engage in these critical conversations and feel empowered to do it and feel prepared to do it in the right way,” Rebecca Antillon, program coordinator of Teen Suicide Prevention, said.
Many other programs attended the event like Operation SafeHouse, Veterans Service, SafeTalk and Family Advocate for those who wanted to seek help in mental health.
Francisco Juerta, a senior advocate for the program Family Advocate, hopes more families can start the conversation regarding mental illness instead of hiding their feelings behind closed doors.
“We educate the families so they can see the signs of any kind of symptoms that relate to any mental illness, we offer support groups and other resources for families,” Juerta said.
The exhibit helped many attendees gain more knowledge about suicide and symptoms of mental illness but for others it was a healing process by bringing them closure from their loved ones who died.
“In the last year that I lost my son, I learned so much that I feel like (if) I would’ve known what I know today, I may have been able to see the signs. If I can save one family from my pain then that’s what I want to do” Riverside resident Terry Gaines said. “Don’t be afraid to talk about it … Educate yourself a little bit more.”