Backpacks cover COC’s Honor Grove for Send Silence Packing suicide awareness display

College of the Canyons students walk the pathway through the Honor Grove where 1,100 backpacks were displayed to honor those lose to suicide for the Send Silence Packing event on Wednesday. Katharine Lotze/Signal.

A simple display made a big impact on the College of the Canyon’s campus Thursday.

COC’s Valencia Campus’ Honor Grove was blanketed with 1,100 backpacks to represent the number of college students who die by suicide each year.

The “Send Silence Packing” display, presented by Active Minds, is a nationally-recognized traveling exhibition designed to raise awareness about the impact of suicide, connect students to mental health resource and inspire suicide prevention.

Many of the donated backpacks feature stories and photos of those who lost their lives to suicide or those who struggled with suicide.

“One thousand and one hundred is a huge number to comprehend so displaying it in this visual way makes it easier to digest,” said Dani Lukens, a contract staffer with the National Active Minds Office. “It really is more impactful to see the physical backpacks laid out in a space where, on any other day, a student and their friends would be sitting and having lunch.”

This is the first time COC hosted the “Send Silence Packing” day-long display. It was made possible by COC’s Active Mind Club and the Student Health and Wellness Center.

The backpacks were placed in the Honor Grove because it is a “high-traffic area” of campus. The display made students, faculty, staff and visitors stop and digest the poignancy of the exhibition.

“It makes a large statement without actually having to say anything,” Lukens said.

COC student and Cougar Peer Educator Daniel Lara said the event hits home for members of campus community because three COC students committed suicide last year. He said he hopes the display reduces the stigmas that surround mental health issues and encourages others to seek help.

“A lot of students have come to us to tell us their story of family members or people close to them who had completed suicide,” Lara said. “It’s brought a lot of people out; it’s got a lot of attention.”

Lukens said the best part of the job is creating a new dialogue about mental health on college campuses and hearing students share their stories.

“Our goal is to change that conversation and break down the stigma around seeking help,” she said. “They see something like this and they are grateful that someone else is talking about it.”

Lukens said students also have the opportunity to write down their own story and submit it to be attached to a backpack.

“To have students to feel so connected to the display and have something they feel like the need to share and to become part of the display themselves, is so powerful for me,” she said.

One student told Lukens that she was going to go back and talk to her friends about donating a backpack with personal items and pictures in honor of one of the friends her group lost.

“The display really connected so deeply with her and she thought it was a great way to reach people,” Lukens said.

If you or someone you know needs help, take action now by calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), The Los Angeles county Department of Mental Health’s Access Center Helpline at 800-854-7771 or 911. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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