Whether they were heading into study sessions for finals next week or rushing to hand in term papers on the last day of classes, West Chester University students on campus could not help but notice the Quad was littered with backpacks.
1,001 backpacks to be exact. Some had photos, memorabilia, or laminated letters attached. All of them representing something tragic: the 1,001 college students that commit suicide annually.
The exhibit was put on by Active Minds and effectively caught the attention of almost ever passerby. Using a physical marker to demonstrate the instances of college suicides that happen annually there is no question it left many in a contemplative mood for the duration of their day.
According to the organization’s website: “Active Minds is the only organization working to utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses. By developing and supporting chapters of a student-run mental health awareness, education, and advocacy group on campuses, the organization works to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed, and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community.”
According to a study on college student suicides, 80 percent of students who complete a suicide never sought counseling (Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2009). The Active Minds organization seeks to spread awareness of depression and other mental illnesses, foster peer support for those in crisis and further the message, “You are not alone!”.
Although exact statistics on the number of suicides occurring during finals week are hard to find, one can only assume that the timing of the exhibit on West Chester University’s campus was perfect. As a time of great stress and a more intense workload, the effect finals week can have on someone already dealing with chronic depression or anxiety can be devastating.
One of the backpacks, with its simple message safety-pinned to its outside, brought tears to this reporter’s eyes.
“Michael died 10 years ago this month. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. We were going to be married. He was kind compassionate and loving, my best friend. He was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety….He took his own life and nobody will ever be the same.”
For every 1,100 college students who take their own lives annually, they leave behind friends, family, and significant others who thought the world of them. If you are struggling to get through your days, don’t lose hope. Call 1-800-273-TALK if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide.