The Send Silence Packing traveling exhibit returned to Penn’s campus, raising awareness for suicide prevention and motivating students to become advocates for mental health.
The exhibit, which was held Tuesday, encouraged community members to “send silence packing" — a message that advocates for active listening, caring for one another, and destigmatizing the discussion of mental health on college campuses and beyond. The exhibit also served as a reminder that Penn’s campus has a variety of resources focusing on mental health education ranging from University-run networks of support, like Wellness at Penn or student-led clubs, like Active Minds and CogWell.
As students, faculty, and community members passed by College Green, they were invited to browse through racks of backpacks that included “stories of loss” as well as “stories of hope” on the subject of mental illness and suicide.
This year’s exhibit featured more collaborative and engaging experiences as part of the exhibit. Next to the backpacks on display, a makeshift theater showcased the story behind the backpacks in an audio and visual way. This enabled participants to see and hear people who have experienced a loss to suicide. It also helped them understand the importance of a strong support system.
The personal aspect of stories surrounding mental health struggle is what makes CogWell Program Director Melissa Rice fond of this event. She shared her personal connection to mental health awareness, telling The Daily Pennsylvanian that “stories start conversations.”
“A friend noticed signs [of struggles with mental health] and just asked me a question I’d never heard before. Are you okay? I’m here for you, please talk to me, I’m never going to judge you,” Rice said.
CogWell President and College junior Carly Spandorfer said it was important for Penn to hold events like Send Silence Packing at Penn.
“People often feel like they can’t even talk about their struggles. There’s stigma around it,” Spandorfer said. “Sometimes you have to push your mental health to the side to get work done [and] to get the best internship.”
Active Minds President Milan Chand explained that the mere presence of the exhibit on campus made a difference.
Chand said that, in addition to the large banner that read “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” volunteers from a dozen clubs on campus would hand out small cards.
"Just inviting people to take a step back… to look at these cards that said 'you are enough,' 'you matter,' or 'you’re loved,' and I think that really got people excited to think someone gave them this," Chand said.
Rice added that the exhibit showcased several of Penn’s mental health resources for students, many of which are more needed now than in previous years, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ephraim Levin, an advisor for CogWell, a Penn chaplain, and a rabbi in the Lubavitch House at Penn, found the event a positive way to educate students on mental health and seek resources.
"It’s a unique, larger event that shows the staff administration and student groups with a very strong, positive message that Penn is here and aware of the issues… that people feel that they are being supported… and finding what they need,” Levin said.
Wellness at Penn's Director of Integrated Care Initiatives Batsirai Bvunzawabaya shared that Tuesday’s event was just one “piece of a larger puzzle.”
“This is one of many events to make sure that we are having an ongoing conversation about mental health and mental illness, talking specifically today about suicide prevention,” Bvunzawabaya said. “We can’t expect students to do well academically or athletically or any facet of their life if we aren’t thinking about their health and well-being.”
Participants were encouraged to close the emotional experience on a high note by placing a post-it note on the “hope wall.”
“We invited everybody to put up a note or something they’re grateful for, something they learned, or just something that they felt impacted by from today’s event and what they wanted to bring into the world after the day,” Chand said. “Our hope wall was nice and covered after the event.”
Send Silence Packing visits 60 to 80 schools and communities each year with its display of backpacks, each with a unique story attached, according to its website. Penn is the second school to experience the Active Minds exhibit, Chand said.
Penn offers many mental health-related resources for students. Wellness at Penn’s Student Health and Counseling offers extensive counseling options and its i care training teaches attendees to recognize mental health issues. Active Minds seeks to eliminate the campus stigma surrounding mental health issues and CogWell promotes active listening by having workshops with a variety of on-campus groups.