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Virginia Tech Drillfield exhibit seeks to end silence surrounding mental health

virginia tech mental health
Send Silence Packing last visited Virginia Tech in 2018. Photo courtesy Active Minds at Virginia Tech.

Editor’s note: The content below contains references of suicide and may be disturbing for some readers. 

Sarah Choi hopes seeing an abundance of backpacks will help other Hokies know they don’t have to carry their burdens by themselves.

“I just hope people realize they’re not alone in the way they feel,” said Choi, a junior studying clinical neuroscience. “There are so many people around you that are probably feeling some range of the way you’re feeling. I want Hokies to know their lives matter and it’s worth it to ask for help.”

The publicity chair for Active Minds at Virginia Tech, Choi is one of several students helping plan and oversee Send Silence Packing, an exhibit that aims to “end the silence that surrounds mental health and suicide,” according to the Active Minds website.

The event, set to occur on the Drillfield from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 2, will feature about 1,000 backpacks, each of which represents a life lost to suicide. For mental health support, professional counselors, therapy dogs, and other people committed to helping will be present throughout the day.

“We need to continue to share the importance of mental health education and support with our entire Virginia Tech community,” said Chris Wise, assistant vice president for Student Affairs. “We want individuals to understand the available resources we have to support mental health and to know the signs of suicide, understand how they can support friends in distress, and to encourage continued positive conversations about mental health.”

A student-focused mental health advocacy nonprofit, Active Minds has more than 600 chapters across the country, including one at the Blacksburg campus and one at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke. Since 2008, they have displayed Send Silence Packing more than 200 times.

Bringing the exhibit to Virginia Tech is a part of the universitywide mental health campaign,
#VTBetterTogether, which launched in 2018 when Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke commissioned a task force to study mental health concerns at Virginia Tech. Since the study, the campaign and other university initiatives have made significant strides in awareness, education, prevention, and intervention in mental health. Many of these efforts can be accessed through the new, streamlined Well-Being at Virginia Tech website.

Alyssa Wills is the president of Active Minds at Virginia Tech and was present when Send Silence Packing was last displayed on the Blacksburg campus during the fall 2018 semester.

“Just seeing people come up and ask questions all day was really impactful,” said Wills, who is set to graduate with a degree in psychology and criminology in May. “It was definitely something I wanted to include to bookend my time here because four years later we have a whole new group of people that could really benefit from this.”

Wills said she specifically hopes bringing wellness resources to a high-traffic area will increase awareness and accessibility for the Virginia Tech community.

“It can be hard to go seek out resources, and you may not even know there are so many. So we hope to have those resources brought to you in the middle of your day, where if you have a few minutes to stop, there will even be someone there to talk to you about them,” Wills said.

Her thoughts were echoed by Wise, who said Send Silence Packing can be a powerful way to continue the ongoing mental health conversation #VTBetterTogether aims to foster.

“I hope this display can bring awareness to the many efforts in support of positive mental health, such as our #VTBetterTogether campaign and our Hokie Wellness Mental Health Coalition work, which includes involvement from many student organizations who work together to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding mental health support on campus,” Wise said. “Students are familiar with the work of the Cook Counseling Center, but often times may not have a complete understanding of some of the preventative work that may be happening.”

Those in the Virginia Tech community who need assistance or counseling support may contact:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK); en Español: 1-888-628-9454; for the deaf and hard of hearing: Dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255.

For a more comprehensive list of individual and group support resources, as well as educational opportunities and ways to get involved visit www.well-being.vt.edu/mental.


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