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National suicide prevention event comes to Erie

Monday, March 23, 2015

Each backpack tells a story—a tragic one fraught with pain and suffering, but also one of latent hope for every passerby.

The bags to be displayed at Gannon University won’t contain supplies typically associated with college students, such as books, exams and errant, crumpled papers, but will instead be carrying the personal stories and testimonies of a life taken by suicide.

Gannon’s Active Minds chapter will host roughly 1,100 of these backpacks—symbolizing the number of students lost to suicide each year— on the school’s Friendship Green, West Seventh Street, and AJ’s Way, located between Seventh and Eighth streets, on Tuesday, April 14 as part of the Send Silence Packing® exhibit.

“This event brings up a lot of powerful emotions, but even more importantly an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about suicide and its impact on the community,” David McCartney, vice president of Gannon’s Active Minds chapter, said. “Seeing all of the backpacks will show students that it can happen to them or to those surrounding them and provide a chance for students to learn how to intervene in the best ways.”

Active Minds is a young adult advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness and increasing dialogue on the topic of suicide among college students. Each year, Active Minds displays Send Silence Packing, its signature awareness event, at campuses across the country.

Gannon’s Active Minds chapter, in coordination with Stairways Behavioral Health, is the first area school to bring Send Silence Packing to its campus. Gannon is one of 12 colleges that will host Send Silence Packing during its spring 2015 tour across the northeast that begins March 30.

Ashly Wyrick, president of Active Minds at Gannon, said Send Silence Packing is intended to increase discussion on the subject of suicide.

“This event will raise awareness to students, faculty, and community members that suicide does happen and it needs to be something we discuss to help prevent it,” Wyrick said.

In addition to the displayed backpacks, Send Silence Packing will also provide students, friends and family members the opportunity to obtain information and literature on mental health, suicide prevention and where to seek help.

The aesthetic element of more than 1,000 backpacks located in a high-traffic space on the downtown campus should draw the attention of people to the display, said Active Minds secretary Julia Williams.

“Send Silence Packing is an extremely powerful event because it targets passersby of the campus and community,” she said. “Its outreach does not require people to commit to attendance of the event. A student walking through campus on his or her way to class can experience a life changing and potentially life-saving display.”

While Gannon’s hosting represents Send Silence Packing’s Erie debut, it is not Active Minds’ first visit to the area.

While celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2011, Stairways hosted Alyson Malmon, Active Minds’ founder, for a speaking tour of three local colleges. As a result of her visit, Gannon and Mercyhurst universities each started student-run Active Minds chapters.

Malmon established Active Minds in 2003 as a junior at the University of Pennsylvania after her only brother, Brian, committed suicide at the age of 22.

Send Silence Packing was unveiled on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2008 with a keynote speech by former congressman Patrick Kennedy. Since then, more than 300,000 people in 85 cities across the country have experienced the event.

In case of inclement weather, the event will be held at inside Gannon’s Waldron Student Center on West Seventh Street.

For more information about Active Minds or Send Silence Packing and a complete list of locations, visit www.Activeminds.org/Sendsilencepacking.


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