Campus exhibit raises awareness about impact of student suicide in college
A suicide awareness exhibit on campus Wednesday featured hundreds of backpacks laid across Wilson Plaza. Passersby at the event were handed flyers by event organizers who discussed the impact of student suicide with them. (Justin Jung/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Editor’s note: The following article contains discussions of suicide, which may be disturbing to some readers.
A mental health advocacy club and its national parent organization co-hosted a suicide awareness exhibit in Wilson Plaza on Wednesday.
Active Minds and its student-run UCLA chapter co-organized Wednesday’s event, Send Suicide Packing, as part of the organization’s annual nationwide tour of around 60 college campuses.
At each campus, the organization places around 800 backpacks in an open space. The number corresponds to around 800 college student suicides per year prior to the pandemic, said Emily Perrow, a display coordinator with Active Minds. By placing the backpacks in a prominent location, they seek to raise awareness of the impact of suicide at colleges nationwide, Perrow added.
The backpack display was visible from Bruin Plaza to the top of Janss Steps, attracting hundreds of students, staff, faculty and visitors to walk around the exhibit.
At each corner of Wilson Plaza, the organizers placed a content advisory warning recommending caution about the backpack display.
“This display includes personal stories related to suicide. We recommend making an informed decision about your participation in this event,” the signs read.
Perrow and Stevie Provis, a display coordinator with Active Minds, said the group plans ahead of each campus display to minimize potential harm for attendees, which includes notifying the campus in advance and setting up alternative routes detouring around the display.
To provide immediate support for attendees who may feel overwhelmed, the organization also requires that a mental health counselor be onsite for at least half of the event. A counselor from UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services was present in Wilson Plaza for most of Wednesday’s event, they said.
Fiona Latifi, a co-executive director of Active Minds at UCLA and a third-year neuroscience student, said about half the backpacks were donated by the families of students who died by suicide and included attached stories about them, helping imbue human stories into the event.
“The whole thing is ‘Send Silence Packing.’ We don’t want people to be silent about this anymore,” said Leela Mohan, a co-executive director of Active Minds at UCLA and a recent psychobiology alumnus. “We want to create an environment where people feel like they can talk about mental health and mental illness and also receive the support that they need.”
The exhibit is also a way to reach a larger audience and connect those in need to the appropriate resources, said Eden Breslauer-Friedman, the logistics director for Active Minds at UCLA and a third-year human biology and society student.
Raising awareness is just the first step, and the event seeks to call students to take action by accessing resources and starting conversations with their friends, she added.
Provis said they hoped the event would encourage people struggling to remain hopeful in managing their mental illness and feel supported in their journey.
“I think a big message is that you’re not alone,” Provis said. “There are so many people out there that want to help and there’s so many different ways to reach out for help. So if one way doesn’t work, there’s always other options to keep looking for.”