Look for 1,100 backpacks to be spread across College Green today.
These backpacks represent the 1,100 college students who commit suicide each year. The event, Send Silence Packing, is part of the 5th National Active Minds conference, which is being held on campus today and tomorrow.
Active Minds, the only student-run national mental-health advocacy group, tries to help students feel comfortable seeking help for mental-health issues.
The group, now with 160 chapters, began as a Penn student group in 2001 by then-College junior Alison Malmon. She now works full-time as the executive director of the non-profit organization.
The annual conference represents growing awareness of mental-health issues.
The first conference hosted just over 30 members. This weekend, more than 300 people - including students from across the country, mental health professionals and University staff - will attend.
The conference, hosted in Houston Hall, is free for Penn students. A variety of speakers will talk about their research and experiences.
Topics range from bipolar disorder to positive psychology, providing something for any student interested in learning about coping or psychology in general, said College senior Heather Berstein, president of Penn's Active Minds chapter.
The conference will also spotlight the "phenomenal" mental-health resources available at Penn, she said.
One of the challenges of creating awareness is finding events that appeal to the broader Penn community. This conference allows students to learn more and "rally" toward the cause, said Bernstein.
With more than 50 volunteers from student organizations, including the Healthy Living Task Force and several fraternities, Active Minds has "already exceeded expectations," Bernstein said.
Although the event helps promote campus-wide awareness, "this conference is in large part for networking between chapters," Malmon said.
Previous conferences have been held at Georgetown, Duke and American universities. This year's return to Penn commemorates its roots as the founding chapter, emphasized by the theme, "Celebrate the Past, Create the Future."
The message also jives with strides the mental-health movement has made since 2001, particularly this year with the passing of the Mental Health Parity Act. The act requires equal insurance coverage for mental-health and physical problems.
Malmon, whose brother committed suicide a year before the group was founded, said she saw a need for a mental-health group on campus during her time at Penn.
"I was honestly amazed by the fact that there was no organization that was working to reduce the stigma of mental health on college campuses," said Malmon, adding that college is the time of transitions and when some conditions start manifesting themselves.
Now, universities recognize that pressures students face are not exclusively academic, she explained.
Malmon and her work are "very motivating" and show the impact a single student can have, said Berstein.Comments powered by Disqus
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