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Stairways and Gannon team up to Send Silence Packing

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A powerful display of backpacks evoked reflective and somber emotions for those who passed by AJ’s way and Friendship Green on the campus of Gannon University Tuesday, April 14.

The bags, 1,100 in total, represented the number of college students lost to suicide each year, putting a face to the lives lost from the second-leading cause of death among people ages 18-23.

The display was part of Send Silence Packing, a traveling exhibit put on by Active Minds, a national young adult advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness and increasing dialogue on the topic of suicide and mental health among college students. Gannon’s Active Minds chapter helped bring the event that has toured colleges across the country since 2008 to the Erie area for the first time.

“The purpose of Send Silence Packing is to reach out to people and let them know that there are people who care and that there are resources for them to take advantage of,” said Gannon Active Minds vice president David McCartney. “From the beginning of the day to the very end, it was an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved.”

Students on their way to class frequently stopped to peruse the bags that contained personal stories and testimonials from families and loved ones. About 200 bags were affixed with photos of the deceased while some bags had even belonged to the students who took their life.

Active Minds secretary Julia Williams said the display left a significant impression.

"The impact Send Silence Packing had on the Gannon campus and Erie community was far more than I could have ever anticipated,” she said. “Viewing pictures of the display does not compare to the amplitude and significance of experiencing it in person.”

Representatives from Active Minds as well as mental health providers, such as Stairways Behavioral Health, the event’s main sponsor, were at the event to provide literature and information.

Williams and McCartney expressed their appreciation for everyone who helped made Send Silence Packing a hit.

“With the great partnerships from Gannon and the community, we made this a successful event that will hopefully allow those who are struggling to have the courage and strength to reach out for help,” McCartney said.

“This event would not have been possible without Stairways Behavioral Health or the help of our volunteers,” Williams said. “I am so grateful that we were able to bring such a meaningful event to Gannon and the Erie community with the universal message to get help. Give help. Save a life."

Gannon is one of 12 campuses to participate in Send Silence Packing’s Northeast spring tour.

Alyson Malmon founded 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.

Stairways extends its gratitude toward Gannon Active Minds student members Ashly Wyrick, David McCartney, Julia Williams and Kaitlyn Hanick as well as Dr. Jodi Giacomelli, Active Minds advisor and Associate Director, Gannon Student Counseling Services, for their dedication in bringing Send Silence Packing to Erie.

In addition, Stairways would like to thank employees Kelly Roberts, Jana Johnson-Zybowski and Heather Filson for their involvement on the Erie County Suicide Task Force, as well as Heather May Caspar, Joe Cuneo, Amanda Ward and Ryan Gool, who helped make the event a success.


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