Backpack display raises awareness

Several student groups raised awareness about suicide Monday.

Psychology senior Kristine Volovsek picks up backpacks Monday from the Coffman Union lawn.

Jules Ameel

Psychology senior Kristine Volovsek picks up backpacks Monday from the Coffman Union lawn.

by Raghav Mehta

More than 1,000 backpacks lay strewn across the lawn in front of Coffman Union on Monday. None of them belonged to University of Minnesota students. In an effort to raise awareness about college suicide, members of Active Minds âÄî a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to educating the public about college mental health issues âÄî along with a litany of other University student groups, placed backpacks representing the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Risk factors and warning signs include depression, bipolar disorder and drug or substance abuse. At 12:15 p.m., close to 100 participants held a flash mob âÄúfreeze,âÄù where they stood frozen in place for five minutes. The backpack display was a part of Active MindsâÄô signature program, Send Silence Packing. This year, Active Minds was given a $50,000 grant from Pepsi to promote mental health education at colleges in the Midwest region. The event was co-sponsored by a coalition of student groups and campus organizations, including Mindfulness for Students, Boynton Health Service and University Counseling and Consulting Services. Members of Active Minds said the backpack display is a compelling and effective way to encourage students to become more involved and generate dialogue on an issue that isnâÄôt discussed openly enough. âÄúWe get really high visibility âĦ and it tells people that it is OK to talk about these things,âÄù said Active Minds employee Brandon Doman. According to BoyntonâÄôs 2009 Health Survey, more than 25 percent of Minnesota college students have been diagnosed with depression within their lifetime. More than 2 percent reported being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Event participants said the biggest hurdle in tackling the issue is encouraging students to be less reticent about discussing their mental health problems. âÄúSociety has a very negative view of mental health issues,âÄù said junior public relations major Emma Casey. âÄúWe want to wipe out the stigma attached to mental health on campuses.âÄù Political science senior Jon Delperdang said he was driven to join the cause because of his own experiences dealing with mental health issues. âÄúIâÄôve had suicidal thoughts and dealt with social anxiety in the past âĦ but I was afraid to get help,âÄù he said. Neuroscience sophomore Claire Chappuis said she was pleased with the reception. âÄúItâÄôs been pretty positive. People get shocked and taken aback by the number of backpacks,âÄù she said.