Northern Iowan

Suicide awareness event sends silence packing

PEYTON HUSMANN, Staff Writer

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Backpacks lined the walls inside Maucker Union on Thursday, Oct. 11 as the nationally touring “Send Silence Packing” event came to UNI.

The event displayed over 1,100 backpacks, representing the average number of college students who take their own lives each year.

In addition to the backpacks, tables also lined the walls of the Union during the event. Each had its own specific purpose, but all had the common goal of helping UNI students learn how they can prevent suicide.

The event was sponsored by Active Minds, the UNI Counseling Center, Lambda Theta Phi, To Write Love on Her Arms.

“It’s that first step for so many people to really grasp the understanding of the scope of the issue, what’s going on,” said Brian Nissen, suicide prevention educator at the UNI Counseling Center.

This is the first year “Send Silence Packing” has visited UNI. Nissen stressed the importance of the visit, knowing it would spark meaningful conversations.

“Being able to recognize that this is something that we need to talk [about]; it’s okay to talk about it,” Nissen said. “It’s extremely important in regards to changing the culture and talking about mental health and suicide on campus.”

Many of the backpacks featured personal stories shared about college students who took their own lives.

One story told was that of Jaclyn Wulf, who took her life at the age of 19. According to her backpack, Wulf was passionate about studying psychology. She wanted to learn more about the disease that had impacted her family in many ways and learn what she could do to help herself.

Another backpack told the story of Laurie Boncimino, who committed suicide at the age of 20.

Boncimino invested herself fully in compassion ministry, working as a missionary in Mexico where she served the homeless. She was the kind of woman that everyone loved, the type overshadowed by the bold beauty of her character.

“Maybe it’s not so scary or taboo to talk about suicide once we realize that we’ve all, in some shape or form, been touched by suicide,” Nissen said.

Nissen wanted students to realize it is okay to talk about mental health and suicide, and to reach out to people who are struggling. He emphasized that mental health issues are very common, and avoiding the issue puts people who are in a mental health crisis in difficult situations.

Active Minds, the main group that sponsored and created the event, was started in 2003 by Alison Malmon, who at the time had recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Active Minds works to establish an open dialogue about mental health and create lasting change in the way it is talked about.

The “Send Silence Packing” event began in 2008, first displayed at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Since then, according to the Active Minds website, the event has had over 183 exhibit stops and has impacted nearly one million people.

“Students have identified mental health as their issue,” Malmon said on the Active Minds website. “They are going to be the ones that change this for future generations.”

Those interested in learning more about Active Minds, their story and how they have impacted other colleges and universities across the country can visit their website at activeminds.org.

Students seeking help can also reach out to the UNI Counseling Center by visiting their website at counseling.uni.edu or setting up an appointment at 319-273-2676.

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Suicide awareness event sends silence packing