University of Denver hosts backpack display to reduce mental illness stigma

Backpacks in the university represent college students that have committed suicide.

DENVER - Roughly 1,500 backpacks lined the halls of the University of Denver Tuesday. Each one represents a college student who loses their life to suicide each year in the US.

It's a striking visual that the school and mental health counselors hope help change a stubborn stigma.

“I am a mental health counselor and destigmatizing mental health is very important to me,” said Rob Shicker, who has spent the last twenty months traveling with the bags and visiting college campuses to discuss the stigma regarding depression and mental illness. The campaign is called “Send Silence Packing.”

It's the display's first visit to Colorado. DU is a fitting home given the work being done by Graduate assistant Leisha Chiles and the Suicide Prevention Project.

“One in ten college students will experience thoughts of suicidial ideation. So it is a very important topic to talk about,” said Chiles.

In the student center on Tuesday, mental health professionals handed out flyers that they hope start a discussion. And then there's the visual impact.

“It is a very powerful statement. It's something that carries a lot of weight if you're able to stop and read one of the stories of these students whose lives is lost," said Chiles.

The 1,500 backpacks that line the hallway have personal stories attached to them. “It looks like she struggled, she was Deaf, very shy, very successful, had a lot of friends,” noticed Marissa, a DU student who stopped by to read the personal stories in the student center.

The stories remind those struggling that they're loved. It reminds those who aren’t struggling that their peers may need help.

“I guess I didn't really know that it was such an issue,” said Marissa. "So I think it is really beautiful that they're putting that out there. There are so many backpacks here.”

The pace of this world creates what often seems like insurmountable challenges, like rocks weighing down a backpack of grief.

“Depression and anxiety is a really common experience among college students. Just the pressure to perform, succeed and figure out what's next,” explains Chiles.

But if students realize they won't be chastised for speaking out about their pain then maybe students and universities can begin reducing the weight on those carrying around a preventable burden.

The "Send Silence Packing campaign will travel to Colorado State University on Friday. The University of Denver has several programs to reduce the stigma about depression and suicide.

For more resources regarding the University of Denver’s efforts, check out these links:

http://www.du.edu/health-and-counseling-center/index.html

http://www.du.edu/health-and-counseling-center/counseling/mental-health-task-force/index.html

http://coloradocrisisservices.org/

http://www.activeminds.org/

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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