In September of 2017, Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) laid out 1,100 backpacks on their campus. The display represented a serious issue in the United States: college students’ mental health and suicide rates. The "Send Silence Packing" movement collects backpacks and personal stories in memory of those lost to suicide.
FDU was not the first college to create this display to spread suicide awareness. In 2016, University of Louisiana at Lafayette laid out backpacks on their campus as well to address the same issue. According to "Send Silence Packing," displaying backpacks with personal stories puts a "face" to lives lost to suicide and carries the message that preventing suicide is not just about improving statistics.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in American adolescents between 20 and 24 years old, the first being unintentional injury and accidents. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts occur between ages 18 and 25 – the same age range as the average college student. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) reveals that over 60% of students who commit suicide suffer from major depression, a mental illness that is most likely to initially develop during adolescence and affects one in ten college students in the US.
Statistics about suicide and mental illness are both informative and alarming, but they don’t give us much insight as to how to tackle the issue at hand. In order to solve the problem, we need to understand it. Anyone has the potential to develop a mental illness – just because someone’s living conditions, social status, or wealth are above average does not mean that the individual can’t be depressed. You cannot control whether or not you develop a mental disorder, and a problem in our current society is that many people believe that mental disorders should not be considered serious medical issues. Many people still don’t understand that those who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses require treatment, just like victims of any other sickness or disease. A majority of college students who commit suicide suffer from depression, and were most likely not provided with proper treatment.
Signs that you are, or someone you love is, at risk are not always easy to identify. In many cases, those who suffer from depression may not be willing to open up or seek help. They may believe that nobody understands their case, so they keep it to themselves.
Since mental illnesses are such a major contributor to suicidal tendencies, it’s important that people understand what some of them are and how they affect individuals' lives. Depression is not just sadness; it can also include other powerful emotions like anger, hatred, or helplessness, as well as a lack of motivation, disinterest in otherwise enjoyable activities, and oversleeping or undersleeping. Additionally, alcoholism and other addictions to harmful substances can threaten a person’s mental and physical health. Anxiety may contribute to someone’s risk of suicide as well. What makes someone anxious differs from person to person, but anxiety can prevent a person from participating in social activities because it makes afflicted individuals nervous and uncomfortable to talk, and a loud or crowded environment can cause panic.
Not only do mental illnesses affect someone’s risk of suicide, but social issues influence suicidal tendencies as well. One example is that the internet has normalized suicidal thoughts. Almost every adolescent uses the internet, and memes and text posts that say things like “I guess I’ll just kill myself” or images of weapons, self-harm, or bleach poisoning as solutions to problems send the message that suicide is not serious, but humorous. Those who are depressed or anxious can see posts like this on social media and infer the message that their feelings are not real problems.
Another big social issue contributing to youth suicide is bullying and harassment. Generally, when we hear the term "bullying," we think of a big kid pushing a little kid on the playground or taking the little kid's lunch money. From a wider perspective, it encompasses much more than grade school pushing or stealing. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse are all examples of bullying or harassment, and are oftentimes used to manipulate the victim. It is especially difficult for individuals to speak up about their pain when they are being harassed; if the bully finds out they “snitched,” it could cause more problems, and some schools are still not handling bullying properly. It is extremely important for people who witness bullying to speak up about it to someone with the authority to handle the situation, because oftentimes the victim is unable to do so due to blackmail or threats from the tormentor.
If you observe someone you know or love exhibiting signs of suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts, reach out to the person so that they can find professional help. If you have a friend or family member who is suffering, the most important thing to do is make sure that person knows that they are not alone. Letting them know that they can trust you will make it easier for them to talk to you if they need help. You will not be able to cure their depression all on your own, but you can take them to people who can, like a doctor or therapist. If you feel trapped and are suffering mentally, you need to tell someone you trust. This can be a friend, relative, professor, school administrator, or anyone who will listen to you. You are not a burden on that person’s life. Your health is important to them, and things will likely get better if you talk to them. If you’re seeking professional assistance, the first thing to do is look locally. Try to find a therapist or doctor in your area who can help properly treat mental illness and suicidal thoughts, or ask your friends or family members if they know of anyone who can help.
The most important thing is treating those who are contemplating suicide, or suffer from mental illnesses. The "Send Silence Packing" movement is already spreading awareness of the issue, and shows that there is hope for those who are hurting. We cannot bring back the 1,100 student lives that have been lost to suicide in previous years, but we can definitely do something to prevent suicides from happening in the future.
If you're unsure whom to talk to: call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
Cogswell also provides high quality counseling services on campus through Neurocycles Wellness Center, LLC. Please contact Brittany Bogle (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule an appointment.