MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBS 2) — It’s a rare occurrence when an inanimate object makes an incredibly intense statement.
At Montclair State University this weekend, a message is being spread loud and clear – by backpacks.
The exhibit is called “Send Silence Packing” and is an attempt to draw attention to the frightening rise of suicide among college students by spreading out 1,100 backpacks – one for every U.S. college student who died last year by committing suicide.
As CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman reports, organizers had no idea that when they picked a New Jersey campus months ago that Tyler Clementi’s suicide at Rutgers would spark a national conversation about the problem.
The “Send Silence Packing” campaign was an initiative by a group called “Active Minds,” which works to get college students talking to each other about depression, suicide and where to get help.
Alison Malmon founded Active Minds nine years ago and it is now active at 290 colleges
“I think the real epidemic, and the real problem, is that we don’t talk about it,” said Malmon, whose brother, Brian, killed himself while a senior at Columbia University.
This weekend’s event is the group’s seventh annual conference, and five hundred students attended.
While planning began a long time ago, it wasn’t lost on attendees that just six weeks ago, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.
Becky Gordon of Boston University said that could’ve been her.
“I myself went through a severe clinical depression my junior year,” she said. “I was kind of lost.”
Gordon said talking about it and finding there were others that felt the same way is what saved her.
“My breakthrough was hearing that people were going through similar things that I was,” Gordon said. “And that they had gotten out of it.”
For Malmon, the pain of losing her brother has stayed with her.
“It still hurts,” she said. “I miss him every day.”
But many are getting the message.
Those at the “Send Silence Packing” campaign said there are two things they hope come out of this weekend’s conference: First, remove the stigma that people have about suicide. And secondly, to talk to each other.