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.

Comments (16)
  1. Terry says:

    I meant to say psychologist or counselor, not psychiatrist. I am his father and do tell him regularly that I love him. We spent the day together yesterday and had some good discussions. We will be together tomorrow and I am going to take your advice and tell him how his suicide would have devatating effects on his loved ones. He seems to be doing better and is visibly trying to serve others instead of himself. He mentioned last night at dinner that he is finding it surprisingly enjoyable. I spoke with his doctor, a close personal friend, and he said that he prescribed the Prozac for the evident depression and the anxiety attacks that he was having. He said that it was to help until my son could get counseling help. My son has scheduled two appointments with a counselor and not showed up for lame excuses. I will be taking him to the next several. My son and I are both Christians and I am emphasizing the spiritual as well. I do not believe everything that I read on the internet. Like anything else, a person must gather enough information to decide for themselves. I appreciate your input and am sorry for your loss.

    1. Father of suicide victim says:

      Good luck, Terry. It sounds more hopeful than I feared it was. I think the age of twenty is a rough time for a lot of young men.

  2. Father of suicide victim says:

    (Post 2 of 2)

    I’d like to add a few details concerning the times when a slightly wrong word or the wrong tone of voice can have devastating results. The most critical time is if and when the person becomes what is known as “psychotic”.

    From what I can see, a large proportion of the people who commit suicide first have a “psychotic episode” and become what is known as psychotic. When they have this episode, they become paranoid and experience such things as hearing voices. After this episode, they seem to be damaged although there is disagreement among experts about whether this is permanent damage and how severe the permanent damage is. Certainly, it’s serious damage that stays for a long time and, unless treated properly, will usually not go away by itself. After the first episode, they can be reasonably rational at times but further severe episodes re-occur at times and it is at those times when they commit suicide. In fact, it seems that it is often during the first episode that some of them commit suicide.

    I believe it is stress and factors such as the chemical effects of drug use, including the SSRI drugs such as Prozac, that trigger these psychotic episodes.

    My son became paranoid about several things, including his Yahoo email service. For example, he was freaked out and full of fear by the fact that he was receiving invitations from people he didn’t know to communicate with him via Yahoo Messenger. And he refused to answer his cell phone because he thought it was being monitored. He would use a public phone to call me on my house phone (I was living overseas at the time although he did live with me in 2007) even though there is a strong likelihood that my house phone IS being monitored since I have been politically outspoken. So there was no logic in him avoiding using his own cell phone.

    With people who are going through what my son went through, it’s very difficult to make them see logic, although I still do suggest that people patiently and rationally use logic with them and never ridicule their beliefs and fears. The problem is, they can momentarily accept your logic but later they seem to forget it – it doesn’t sink in. There might even be some truth in what they imagine, such as their phone or email being watched, but it is the overwhelming and exaggerated fear that they have about these things that that dominates their thoughts. They can become “whiney” and repetitive about these things, even after you have patiently explained things, and it is at those times when you have to be super careful not to say the wrong thing, even a small thing, that might appear to be a rejection of them in their mind.

    A final point is this – even after they have become damaged by the first psychotic episode, a lot of the time they are reasonably rational. At those times, you might suggest they do a certain thing and they agree to do it. In my case, my son agreed to move back to living with me. But it’s very important for you to realize that, in their situation, they are almost incapable of doing things, even when they say they can and they will. They become immobilized by fears and other mental problems such as doubts and depression and cannot do much of a practical nature to help themselves. You actually have to be there to help them.

  3. Father of suicide victim says:

    (Post 1 of 2.)
    Terry, I can only repeat and earnestly emphasize what I wrote before, especially about the common websites that people find on these topics and about psychiatrists. I suspect that almost all psychiatrists will put him on other psychotropic drugs but will ignore the Prozac issue out of ignorance or an erroneous belief that it was not a contributing factor in causing the mental deterioration, will label him, and will not give him any meaningful psychotherapy, besides asking him a few questions. I too believed most of what those website say until I started digging deeper.

    I think your son, and my son and millions like them are so similar that it’s almost as if they all came from the same mold. Read the Bruce Levine link I have below and read as much as you can by him, including his website. This “bi-polar” stuff is a scam.

    Things become more difficult for the average person like you or me when the voice of authority itself, in this case medical science, has been scammed but I am convinced that this is the case.

    Terry, I assume your are his father (since “Terry” is usually but not always a man’s name). But even if you are his mother, what I will write below still applies.

    We have all heard the saying, “Love conquers all” and I think it’s very applicable in this situation. People in your son’s position are EXTREMELY sensitive and scared and their feeling of self-worth is at rock bottom. The feeling that someone truly loves them, will always be there for them, needs them and would be devastated by their suicide is, I think, a very important factor that determines whether they actually commit suicide or not. This becomes even more critical if or when they have a psychotic episode and is an absolutely critical factor when they are on the verge of committing suicide. As I wrote above about the girl who asked me if I thought her parents would suffer if she killed herself, these people need to be explicitly told how much they are loved – actions are not enough, they need to hear the words, too.

    But, for most fathers, it’s not so easy to tell their sons, and to explain in detail, how much they love them – it feels a bit too “mushy” and unmanly. It’s critically important for you to overcome this. And you need to maintain frequent communication with your son.

    Another thing related to this, is support for yourself. Simply the fact that you are in your current position will add tremendous stress to your life and make you yourself feel depressed. Add to that the other stresses and problems in life and add to that the fact that sometimes we are tired and overworked, then the end result is that sometimes we might not say or do the best thing for our son or daughter in this situation, or even our tone of voice might not be the best. We are humans with human weaknesses but in the case of dealing with someone like your son, such a small weakness occurring at the wrong time might have a devastating effect on this person. You definitely need to have the emotional support of others. There are websites that do this, that do the same as my replies to you, but I don’t know where they are. This might help a little bit.

    I’m going to end this post here but I will continue it with a second post.

  4. Terry says:

    My son has been abusing drugs and alcohol for about 4 years. He is now 20. His doctor prescribed Prozac for his depression about 3 months ago. He takes it inconsistently depending on how he feels. He is asking for help with thoughts of suicide. Your suggestions?

    1. Father of suicide victim says:

      Hi Terry. I feel for you. My son had the same dangerous mix as your son, including on and off Prozac use (the most dangerous part) but he had been abusing drugs and alcohol for longer than 4 years.

      Although I’m no expert, this is my advice for right now (and I hope your son is living with you).

      1) Go into immediate suicide prevention mode. That means, always be with your son or have someone trustworthy with him. This includes making sure he doesn’t get up early (because he couldn’t sleep, for example), and sneak out and kill himself.
      2) Make sure he completely refrains from alcohol and other drugs. Most kids his age think marijuana is almost good for them but, in his condition, it’s a possible dangerous trigger. Appeal to his intellect and try to explain that this is a temporary but necessary thing to do.
      3) Although I am more than 90% sure that Prozac and the like is the real or the main CAUSE of his mental decline to the point of suicidal thoughts, I strongly suggest that you keep him on the minimum dose and that he take it regularly for the time being. I believe this is the better of the two evils – continuing with it or quitting it. I say this because I’m pretty sure it is the erratic usage of these drugs that results in suicidal depression. Keep him on it but gradually reduce the dose over a year, hopefully with expert supervision. (And I don’t mean “experts” like the doctor who first prescribed it but people with the mindset of Bruce Levine. The gradual withdrawal, in combination with other therapeutic measures, would probably be the best way to overcome this problem. This is a long-term project that will require a lot of your time, attention and strength.
      4) However, I might be wrong on advising you to maintain the Prozac. I think if someone had been using it for less than, say, a week, then the best bet might be cold-turkey withdrawal along with close medical supervision. But since he’s been using it for 3 months, on and off, and since he’s talking about suicide, I think it’s got a hold of him and a gradual withdrawal would be safer.
      5) Reduce and try to eliminate all stress in his life. Even try introducing him to such relaxing activities as painting pictures.
      6) Go for long walks with him or some other similar activity. Building up oneself physically is one effective way to counter this depression.
      7) When you go for the long walks, be a friend to him and talk. Bolster his self-esteem because people in his condition have damaged self-esteem, partly through life experiences which led them to abuse substances in the first place and also, very significantly, their self-esteem becomes further damaged by the experience of feeling helpless about what is happening to their minds as a result of Prozac etc. Let him know that life is not hopeless and that he does have a good future but first, this “monkey on the back” (the Prozac) need to be dealt with.
      8) Be very patient and understanding if and when he becomes judgmental and critical towards you. This is not the real him but the zombie that the substances are trying to turn him into.
      9) Never let anyone label him as “schizophrenic”, “bi-polar”, “psychotic” or anything like that. Such labels depress people further by making them feel that they have a life-long problem. Yes, I think the people in his situation often seem to become what the “literature” (e.g., the websites) label as “schizophrenic” but I believe this is BS, further disinformation promoted by the drug companies. It is chemically induced schizophrenia.
      10) Educate yourself about this, for example, by reading what I listed below in these comments. And then educate your son to realize that this is a temporary but serious medical problem that can be overcome. Help him understand things.
      11) If at all possible, seek out people with the mindset of Bruce Levine to help you through this. Avoid most mainstream psychiatrists, who are similar to the doctor who prescribed the Prozac to your son. Definitely avoid letting anyone prescribe further mind-affecting drugs for him, in an attempt to overcome your current situation.

      1. Father of suicide victim says:

        One more thing. Although it is a scary topic, especially if he has already attempted suicide, don’t avoid talking about suicide. Emphasize to him that it is a TEMPORARY brain disorder, produced by chemical substances, mainly the Prozac itself, that is trying to trick him into feeling that life is hopeless and that suicide is the only escape. It is a bit like, “the devil” making someone do something. And, most importantly, emphasize that you really do love him and will always be there to help him through this thing and that if he kills himself, it will crush you and damage you for life. I knew a girl who had been a girlfriend of my son for a while and who had suffered through similar temptations to commit suicide. She asked me (in all seriousness) if I thought that her parents would suffer if she killed herself. I told her that it would absolutely devastate them and probably cause them to have shorter lives themselves, lived in misery as a result of her suicide. This seemed to sink in and she changed her mind about killing herself. She actually needed to hear it from someone – she couldn’t produce these conclusions herself in her mental state.

      2. Terry says:

        Thank you, Father. He does not live here now but I am trying to convince him to come home. He lives with some guys who are all going down a bad path. They all realize that they are not accomplishing anything worthwhile but none of them want to be the one that “runs home to momma”. They all need a 100% change in their lifestyle. I am trying to get him in to see a psychiatrist now. He is willing to go. After googling depression and the like, he does appear to have classic bipolar symptoms. He has had these symptoms for years, not just since taking Prozac. I always chalked it up to the drug use and to being an irresponsible teenager.

  5. Father of suicide victim says:

    Especially search for, “Bruce E. Levine: Are Psychiatric Drugs Causing the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America?”

  6. Father of suicide victim says:

    I suggest doing an internet search for “Bruce E. Levine” on this topic.

  7. Father of suicide victim says:

    A major problem is that the most dangerous time when using SSRI drugs is just after starting to use them and when the person tries to stop using them. It takes about a year to gently wean someone off these drugs! If it it done too fast, major, suicidal depression sets in.

  8. chijioke ugwuoke says:

    only GOD can give meaning to life. no GODLy person kills himself. to stop suivide take teenagers back GOD who provides hope and meaning to melancholic souls

  9. Tammy Minter says:

    I will be more than happy to share my story about my son.

  10. motherconcerned says:

    You want to stop suicide you need to start looking at teenager’s that are being bullied or accussed of crime they didn’t commit. You want to talk I can tell you how many times I stopped my son from ending his life because of both these things.

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