RSO changing mental health conversation
On Monday, 1,100 backpacks were spread out across The Green as part of Active Mind’s “Send Silence Packing” exhibition, which helps raise awareness for National Suicide Prevention Week.
Active Minds, a national organization that started in 2001, is dedicated to starting a conversation to decrease the stigma against mental health. They now have 456 chapters nationwide, and currently serves as the only mental health advocacy on the university’s campus.
“The conversation around mental health is just so prevalent,” co-president Gina Cricchi said. “I really strive for people to realize mental health awareness is an issue and that they can make a difference.”
Send Silence Packing is an organization that tours the country and sets up 1,100 backpacks to represent the 1,100 college-age students who commit suicide every year.
The exhibition, which Cricchi said was the RSO’s biggest event to date, was a way for Active Minds to show not only who they are as a club, but also to raise awareness about the rate of suicide on college campuses. Some of the backpacks displayed students’ stories that families have shared and allowed Send Silence Packing to use.
“It will bring awareness to the issue without saying anything,” Cricchi said about the event. “I think it will affect people more than they are thinking.”
Along with the backpacks, Send Silence Packing and the university’s counseling center had tables set up where students could make donations, sign a pledge to be a mental health awareness advocate and learn more about the services offered at the university.
In its four years since being introduced on campus, Active Minds has since seen an increase in interest, but the organization still struggles with getting new membership. The members hope that events like Send Silence Packing will continue to spread word about the club and about the issue of mental health. The group also hosted Stomp Out Stigma 5K and guest speaker Kevin Briggs, a suicide prevention expert, earlier this semester.
“One in four people have a mental illness that’s diagnosable, but no one wants to talk about it,” incoming co-president Kelly Mariani said. “It isn’t taboo.”
Active Minds is also trying to implement a program called “Kognito,” an online simulation similar to AlcoholEdu that freshmen take before registering for classes. It teaches students how to identify symptoms in others, how to encourage others to seek help if they need it and also shows where the counseling center is located on campus.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know where the counseling center is or don’t even know we have it,” Mariani said. “That breaks my heart because everyone could use it at some point.”
A study conducted earlier this year by Active Minds on campus showed that 98 percent of students thought it would be good to have Kognito as part of the program.
Although Cricchi is graduating this semester, she said she knows she’s leaving the club in really good hands. The members have a strong bond, she said, and she is confident that the current exec board will continue the conversation about mental health.
Mariani is aware that not everyone will take the conversation seriously right away. She knows that change has to start somewhere, and Active Minds is on the right track.
“Especially on college campuses, if we can just talk about it to other people and if they hear what we’re saying, hopefully it will help make a difference,” Mariani said.