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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Active Minds hosts suicide & mental health awareness event on campus

 Student stops to read message on a backpack.
Student stops to read message on a backpack. PHOTO: KEELY GALLAGHER ’25/THE HAWK

Sam Dapper was 20 years old when he took his own life. His backpack and a personal note written by his parents were on display outside of Campion Student Center this past Friday along with 500 other backpacks of individuals around the U.S. who also committed suicide. 

The Send Silence Packing event was held on Sept. 9 and was organized by the Active Minds club, a national chapter whose founder lost her brother to suicide. 

Many teary eyed students took a moment to stop and read the stories that the parents, siblings, spouses and friends left about their loved one they lost to suicide.

Alicia Jones ’26, treasurer of Active Minds, helped organize the event.

“We are spreading awareness for the club, which is for not just suicide awareness, but also mental health awareness, anxiety, depression, disorders that are not diagnosed or just people that are struggling,” Jones said. “We’re giving them an outlet and letting them know that it’s okay to talk

about problems.” 

Many of the notes on the backpacks disclosed that the person did not open up about their mental health, which remains the biggest obstacle in improving mental health, said Kristen Harootunian, a speaker for Minding Your Mind, an organization that uses the power of storytelling to educate young adults about mental health advocacy.

“We tend to only share pieces of our stories because we feel embarrassed,”

Harootunian said.

Harootunian was invited to speak at St. Joe’s on Sept. 8 at Cardinal Foley Campus Center to share her story and answer questions that students had about mental health advocacy. 

“When people ask how you are, we usually respond with, ‘I’m fine,’ but what does that actually mean?” Harootunian asked the audience when she shared

her story.

Students responded with: “I’m not fine, but I don’t want to talk about it,” “You wouldn’t understand,” “I don’t want you to judge me,” “I don’t want to burst into tears,” “I need to get through this on my own.”

Kristen commended St. Joe’s for the CAPS program and for offering other outlets for students to speak about mental health in safe environments, but also explained how there is still work to be done in speaking openly about mental health among trusted friends and family. 

“We’re afraid of taking off a mask because of what people might think,” Harootunian said. “I’m an athlete, horse rider, aspiring student, but would you still want to be my friend if you knew what was behind the mask?”

Marybeth Ayella, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and advisor for Active Minds, offered some advice for students concerned about their friends’ mental health. 

“Active Minds started the program with three letters: VAR,” Ayella said. “This stands for validate, appreciate and refer. What you’re trying to do is to say, ‘I understand you’re in bad shape.’ Then you get more information on it. and then finally, if you think that you’re not qualified to do any more, you refer them [to seek better help,]” Dr. Ayella said. 

Brandon Brokaw, a member of the national Active Minds chapter, came to St. Joe’s for the Send Silence Packing event to offer more information for students.

“One thing that they can do is fill out one of the cards that we have that asks them, what do they think they can do?” Brokaw said. “What kind of questions could they ask the person who might be hesitant to talk about their mental health?”

The national chapter provided students with information on where to seek help, such as using the new mental health hotline, 988. This hotline connects to crisis counselors and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  

Harootunian mentioned the hotline during her talk on Thursday and stressed that anyone can use it if they are going through a crisis or just having a bad day. 

“We can only meet help halfway. You need to show willingness to get help, there’s only so much a person can do before a higher level of care is needed,” Harootunian said. “The way out is in.”

Active Minds received numerous sign ups for new members at the event and will have more mental health awareness events throughout this semester, such as Stomp Out Stigma next month.

“[Send Silence Packing] is the most powerful event that the national organization has,” Ayella said. “If you really care, and you say ‘I care about you and I’m worried,’ people will pick up on that and they will respond positively.”

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