A thousand backpacks on display at SJSU challenge the stigma of mental illness and suicide


One thousand backpacks were placed on Tower Lawn at San Jose State University on Tuesday, with each bag representing a person who survived a suicide attempt or lost a loved one to suicide, one of the main causes of death among college-aged adults, officials said.

In the shadow of the iconic Tower Hall, third-year student Madison Mañez, 20, took to the lawn at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday with nearly a dozen other students and put down the backpacks , one by one, on the grass and the nearby benches. Mañez and other board members of the Active Minds Chapter of SJSU — a national nonprofit organization that aims to address the stigma associated with mental illness — had been planning the campus facility for decades. months, but the reality of what each backpack represented suddenly hit her.

“Just reading little snippets made me feel a little sick because I realized that the backpacks represent the people and the people who loved them,” Mañez said, referring to the personal stories printed. individuals tied to the bags. “It was quite heavy.”

The one-day exhibit, “Send Silence Packing,” which ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., was organized by Active Minds as part of the nonprofit National College Campus Tour. The goal, Mañez said, was to address the sensitive topic of mental health and suicide, issues that seem all too common for young adults navigating college, and also to tackle the enduring stigma and nature “taboo” that accompanies the discussion. these subjects.

It was also a crucial reminder for students of the kind of services available to them at SJSU and a way to encourage young adults to feel comfortable discussing their mental health, said Sarah Strader-Garcia. , SJSU Clinical Advisor.

Suicide has been a leading cause of death in the United States, especially among college-age youth and young adults, Strader-Garcia said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. in recent years.

Mañez, who studies communication disorders and science, said mental health is her “personal passion” and said she was encouraged by the student population’s response to the exhibit, pointing to “meetings and interactions touching” between the students and the volunteers and advisers of the club. Photographs taken by a college photographer showed students craning their necks and pausing to read the stories of people affected by suicide.

Visitors also browsed on iPads with additional stories of people who died by suicide and survivors of suicide attempts, Mañez said. University officials said the iPads contained videos of suicide survivors sharing “their stories of how they found support and what helped them.”

“(The exhibition) proved to me that this is something powerful and necessary,” Mañez said. “Seeing other people interacting and being touched by this display – it was encouraging.”

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to reach a free counselor at a locally operated 24-hour crisis center. You can also text Connect to 741741 to reach a free crisis counselor anytime. .


For Strader-Garcia, who is also the advisor for the Active Minds chapter of SJSU, the installation was emotional.

“I was able to slow down and start reading the stories, and it’s so, so sad. I was tearing it up,” Strader-Garcia said. family members, right? I read stories about ‘My Best Friend’ and ‘My Husband’, and it’s so tragic. We want to prevent that as much as possible, you know?”

University mental health counselors were on hand all day Tuesday to answer questions about the counseling and psychological services the university provides to students, and also to provide support to those triggered by the topic, Strader said. -Garcia. Counselors also informed students of off-campus resources, university officials said.

Kell Fujimoto, senior director of counseling and psychology services at SJSU, said in a statement that university officials hoped the exhibit would “reduce the stigma associated with mental health treatment and create a community of care.” for our students”.

“We want students to reach out, support and help each other connect to resources,” Fujimoto said.

SJSU’s counseling and psychology department is “very busy,” Strader-Garcia said.

“We see a lot of students, so it’s wonderful that they come, but a stigma still exists,” Strader-Garcia said, adding that events like the installation are preventative. “We are seeing the beginnings of some mental health issues in young adults, so it is important that we have mental health services available on campus.

The university offers confidential individual counseling sessions, couples therapy, group therapy, a number of workshops as well as a campus-wide suicide prevention program led by Dr. Wei-Chien Lee , psychologist in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Strader-Garcia. mentioned.

Lauren Hernández (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: lauren.hernandez@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @ByLHernandez

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