Backpacks illustrate toll of college suicides

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — The Indiana University Arboretum was speckled with backpacks of all sizes and colors Tuesday.

But these backpacks weren't worn by students going from class to class or on their way to eat lunch and study with friends. Instead, these backpacks were motionless in the grass.

"They're not moving, not talking," said Jordan Babcock, a junior. "Those are different lives that could be here."

1,100 backpacks: one for each college student who dies by suicide each year.

It's part of a national traveling awareness exhibit called Send Silence Packing from a nonprofit called Active Minds Inc., started in 2003 by Alison Malmon, a then-University of Pennsylvania student, who lost her brother, Brian, to suicide.

The display at IU was part of an 11-stop Midwest tour and included information about mental health, suicide prevention and where to find help, The Herald-Times reported ( ). There was also a journal where passers-by could add their thoughts.

The biggest thing is outreach, said Libbie Fender, a freshman who was handing out fliers with the student group Crimson Corps. She said she was drawn to help because mental illness has affected her family.

"There are a lot of barriers. People don't know how to bring it up," she said.

More than half of college students have suicidal thoughts, and about 10 percent have seriously considered it, according to Active Minds. The degree of awareness of those numbers ranges from well informed to those who have no idea, said Brandon Doman, a member of the road staff for Active Minds.

"It really upsets me that people can get to the point where they want to do this," said Babcock, who also was handing out fliers. "Maybe there can be one less backpack."

Lining the walkways of the arboretum were signs listing statistics and urging students to ask for help. Doman said about 200 to 300 of the backpacks had stories attached to them about people of all ages who have committed suicide.

Both Babcock and Fender said the display made an impact on them when they arrived.

"When I first walked up, it was sad," Fender said. "It was almost like a cemetery."


Information from: The Herald Times,

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