Backpacks fill Commons Plaza to raise awareness for youth suicide

Photo by: Andrew Crider
Photo by: Andrew Crider
Photo by: Andrew Crider

Students and faculty stopped in somber silence in the Commons Plaza last week as a nationally traveling project illustrated the magnitude of student suicide in the U.S.

Active Minds Incorporated, a non-profit dedicated to encouraging students to speak out about mental health, brought their “Send Silence Packing” display to VCU on April 27. The project consisted of laying out 1,100 backpacks to represent lives lost to suicide and raise awareness of mental health issues among college students.

“It’s definitely something we need to start talking about and we need to start spreading awareness for,” said Andrea Nguyen, an Active Minds VCU organizer and junior psychology major. “About 300 backpacks have stories in them, and objects inside the backpacks were donated by family and friends.”

According to Nguyen, one of the best ways to prevent suicide is by being open to discussion revolving around it.

On April 15, VCU senior Corey Randall died of suicide at the age of 22. Randall would have graduated less than a month after his death with degrees in criminal justice and psychology. According to the university, Randall’s degrees will be awarded to him posthumously.

Inside one backpack was the story of Shane Patterson, a freshman who died of suicide the morning of Dec. 19, 2010. He was 18 years old.

Casey O’Neill, an Active Minds Incorporated organizer, said she met Patterson in middle school.

“Shane was one of my best friends throughout high school,” O’Neill said. “(His death) impacted me emotionally and traumatically… I had never dealt with a loss on this sort of capacity before.”

According to O’Neill, Patterson never indicated he was was struggling with depression.

“To know that he was hurting so deeply and I never had a clue. He never displayed any signs,” O’Neill said. “The story I share about Shane is a story that’s far too common.”

O’Neill said working to raise awareness about suicide on college campuses is one of the many ways Active Minds can help protect those who are dealing with depression and mental health issues.

Miki Skinner, a psychologist at VCU counseling services, said suicide is common among young adults due to the stressors college-aged students face.

“It’s a time in life where things can be really difficult. People are transitioning into new life from high school to college,” Skinner said. “Sometimes people just find themselves in situations where they feel depressed and overwhelmed and it may feel like their only option is to take their own life.”

Skinner said that because internalizing mental health issues is such a strong component in cases of suicide, the Send Silence Packing display is intended to encourage individuals to speak up about their struggles.

“Silence is the place where depression grows and makes people so much more likely to commit suicide,” Skinner said.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. For issues related to suicide and mental health, the VCU Police Crisis Line is also available at (804)-828-1234. Students, faculty and staff may also call Monroe park and MCV consoling services at (804)-828-6200 and (804)-828-3964, respectively.

Online News Editor, Andrew Crider

Andrew Crider, photo by Brooke MarshAndrew is a junior economics major who has written for student newspapers since he was in high school. Andrew is interested in political history, aviation, photography and running. He has a tendency to refer to his peers, coworkers and bosses as “ma’am” or “sir,” but is getting better about referring to his friends at the CT by their first names instead. // Facebook

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