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Exhibition on South Quad raises suicide awareness

| Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eleven hundred backpacks scattered across South Quad Wednesday held a heavier message than the book weight they usually carry.

The backpacks were a suicide awareness exhibition called “Send Silence Packing,” and each one represented one of the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year. The exhibition was a collaborative effort between Active Minds, a non-profit organization, and the Notre Dame’s National Alliance on Mental Illness Club (NAMI-ND).

Each backpack acted as a small token of remembrance for one of the lives claimed by suicide. Sophomore Courtney Koch, a member of NAMI-ND said she hoped this display would act as a conversation-starter on campus and convince students to ask more questions about mental health.

“Mental illness is a legitimate health issue and should be treated with the same amount of seriousness as we treat physical illnesses,” Koch said. “It’s not just something that should be pushed off to the side.”

NAMI-ND president junior Katie Paige said the planning process for the exhibition started at the end of last spring when the club received approval from Active Minds. Paige said the event received overwhelming support and in many ways, it was a collaborative effort from many different groups on and off campus.

“It’s been a long process, but an extremely rewarding one as we fight to end the stigma of mental illness and suicide,” Paige said. “I believe that this powerful display will force people to stop, think and start talking.”

Koch said the stigmatization of depression and mental illnesses was the driving force behind event, and the group aims to help reduce some of those misconceptions.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is depression is not just sadness,” Koch said. “Everyone feels sad, but depression is a legitimate disorder that could be chemical or an event in your life that triggers it.”

Senior and former NAMI-ND president Maggie Skoch said her personal journey and stories of other Notre Dame students’ journeys kindled her passion to spread awareness for mental illnesses.

“I think it’s easy to provide people with a statistic, to say that suicide and mental health issues are things that need to be addressed,” Skoch said. “What this display does really well is take what is a mere statistic and brings it into the real world, into a display, and it fosters conversation as a result.”

NAMI-ND representatives volunteered to set up the exhibit, and many of them distributed informational fliers throughout the day. Koch said she hopes this event prompts people to strike up a conversation with the NAMI-ND representatives.

“I’d like for people to be shocked by this event and to feel like this is too much and there shouldn’t be this many victims,” Koch said.

Skoch said “Send Silence Packing” last came to campus in the spring of 2014, and she said she hopes to repeat the event’s success in battling the stigma of mental illnesses.

“In my four years here, this conversation has gained a lot of momentum and I think I’ve witnessed myself in various interactions, and on a broad level, a breaking down of that stigma,” Skoch said. “This awareness is the goal of this event and other events that NAMI sponsors … and what the Notre Dame community is working towards through the various efforts on campus.

“’Send Silence Packing’ makes tangible a very difficult topic and issue through a visual display The hope is that this event itself will bring about the continuation of a conversation that’s already happening … a conversation about mental health at Notre Dame, America and across the world.”


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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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