TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Every year, 1,100 college students commit suicide.
It was just a number until a group called Send Silence Packing placed 1,100 backpacks on the University of Arizona Mall on Monday, April 29.
Each backpack depicts one suicide. The visual display was both powerful and impressive.
“It really is a powerful scene,” said Joel Gaffney, one of 30 counselors at the University of Arizona who deal with mental health issues. “It illustrates how prevalent of a thing this is for kids this age.”
Gaffney said he will sometimes see as many as 10 patients a day, many of them walk-ins who are contemplating suicide.
“I work with people who have thoughts of killing themselves everyday,” he said. “To see it visually like this is a powerful thing.”
Colin Tidwell, a psychology major at UA, said just starting a conversation with someone can prevent suicide.
“Often it’s just a matter of sitting down with someone, explaining they’re OK and it’s OK to not feel OK,” he said. “Most importantly, getting help so you can get back to feeling OK."
One of the things that frequently makes students not feel okay is social media.
“Where it can be a real, deep-seated problem is when people are shaping the views of themselves online,” Gaffney said. “Which isn’t real.”
Some students get the impression their friends are doing well and they’re not, which “can be incredibly isolating,” Gaffney said.
The counselors said the often see Facebook posts which alert them to suicidal behavior.
Students will post lines like “I don’t want to live anymore," “I’m thinking about dying” or "I’m better off dead.”
UA has increased funding to add another nine counselors, but it will still be short staffed for a 40,000-student.
The Send Silence Packing display travels around the country and will have 22 stops this year. It’s the first year it has been on the UA campus.
Active Minds, which Tidwell is vice-president, is hoping the exhibit will get people talking because that’s generally the best way to overcome suicidal thoughts.
Many backpacks contain a photograph of a student who has committed suicide, along with a story submitted by the family.
“Oftentimes, what we see on these backpacks is that people are feeling alone (but) didn’t know the appropriate way to reach out to get help,” Tidwell said. “So that’s what we’re trying to do is facilitate that conversation.”