Students from three different school districts in Clinton County along with many adults got an education on something that is not suppose to be talked about in society — mental illness.
Greeted by over 1,000 backpacks from those who have committed suicide locally and nationally, the Send Silence Packing tour made a stop in Frankfort at the Clinton County Fairgrounds Tuesday to not only illustrate how big of a problem this is locally but throughout the country as well. However, it is a problem that can be dealt with.
“This is something that people don’t typically share with people because there is this stigma among our society,” said Send Silence Packing Tour Coordinator Courtney Burke. “Our goal is to connect individuals to resources and just educate the public on what mental illness really is.”
For more than a decade, this acclaimed exhibit has traveled the country to end the silence that surrounds mental illness and suicide. It is presented by Active Minds, the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for students.
Active Minds was founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon, then a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, after tragically losing her only sibling, her 22-year-old brother Brian Malmon, to suicide.
“She thought it could have been prevented had there been more awareness on his campus,” said Burke. “She kind of came up with the idea that the backpack represents the student. As the years went on, the movement went from a really small movement to a huge movement.”
Students from Clinton Central, Rossville and The Crossing visited the exhibit in the morning. They walked silently passed the rows and rows of backpacks, stopping to read the stories that ended in tragedy and thinking what might have been.
“There are stories out there on backpacks from men, women, boys, girls, people who are of every walk of life, every race, every gender,” said Healthy Communities of Clinton County Coalition Executive Director Lorra Archibald. “Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against anyone. It’s really important that we get this out to everyone so that they know there are resources available.”
Send Silence Packing was first unveiled in 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with a keynote speech by Patrick Kennedy. Since then, the exhibit has reached approximately 946,710 visitors in over 200 cities and counting with messages of hope and help.
What is the general reaction by those who visit the exhibit?
“Just really taken aback,” said Burke. “They talk about how solemn this is. It’s devastating. But it needs to be done. We put forth the message that this is preventable.”
According to Active Minds, 50 percent of cases of mental health issues begin by the age of 14. By the age of 24, that number is 75 percent. Two thirds of students with anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment. The second leading cause of death among students is suicide. 67 percent of college students tell a friend they are feeling suicidal before telling anyone else and 85 percent of those with mental illness do not die by suicide — because mental illnesses are treatable.
“It’s a really important message that we are getting out to our youth,” said Archibald, who added the exhibit was more than she thought it would be.
“When I turned the corner and saw those backpacks, it made me tear up,” she said. “It’s very impactful to see what mental illness is doing to our society.”