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Active Minds group’s Send Silence Packing tour promotes suicide awareness

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Alexia Ruiz tells the story of a backpack display at Send Silence Packing tour stop on Ole Miss campus. Photo by Tucker Robbins.

Tucker Robbins
Oxford Stories
tyrobbin@go.olemiss.edu

A typical super hero might wear a cape, have special powers, and use a secret identity, but members of the Active Minds mental health organization are saving lives every day without a costume.

Active Minds, a national organization with more than 300 chapters throughout the United States, is a legion of everyday heroes whose mission is to promote mental health awareness and education and provide services for those in need.

The group was in charge of the recent University of Mississippi-hosted Send Silence Packing spring tour. Members travel across the country to college campuses to promote suicide awareness among college students.

National representative Alexia Ruiz said it’s important to talk about mental health. She said one of the most important parts of having this conversation is using appropriate language.

“You don’t commit a suicide,” she said. “You commit a crime. You are not a victim. You are a person.”

Ruiz believes this attaches more negativity to an already bad situation. She said you can’t help someone if you sound insensitive or uneducated.

Instead, Active Minds representatives use phrases like “lost their life to suicide” and words like “person” or “individual” to try and make the conversation open.

Ruiz hopes they can create awareness because the way you say things or present information can directly affect the person you are talking to. Her personal goal is to try and break the stigmas that surround mental health issues because they are part of the reason people don’t come forward.

“For example, on our tour, we just say that there are over 1,000 backpacks to represent the number of students lost to suicide each year instead of using an exact statistic,” she said. “Because if we did that, there are greater chances that someone having suicidal thoughts is going to end up feeling like they will just be another statistic.”

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Active Minds chapter president, Kathryn Forbes, left, speaks with members of the community about Mental Health Awareness Week. Photo by Tucker Robbins.

Kathyrn Forbes, co-founder and president of the University of Mississippi’s Active Minds chapter, has battled mental health issues, and she is not ashamed to discuss her journey.

“I was sick and just needed to get better,” Forbes said.

She took a semester off for self care. When she came back, she dove head first into Active Minds and remains involved in campus activities now.

“Anxiety and depression just kind of took a toll, and I needed to take some time off to try and enjoy life again,” she said, “and so that’s what we’re trying to promote. That it’s nothing to be ashamed of. What we’re trying to do on the Ole Miss campus is continue the conversation of mental health.”

Active Minds has hosted a Mental Health Awareness Week on the Ole Miss campus for two years.

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Students were encouraged to take mood buttons reflecting how they felt during Ole Miss Mental Health Awareness Week. Photo by Tucker Robbins.

She said these issues are much more common than most people think. Many students think what they are experiencing is normal, but mental health problems are something people should take more seriously and reach out about.

“It really affects every single student on this campus and faculty member,” she said.

While every hero needs to be believed in, Forbes describes the campus attitude as open and accepting.

“It’s grown a lot over the past year,” she said, “and the university has been overwhelmingly supportive.”

A senior, Forbes led her team of eight executive members and 25 committee members to raise money and get sponsorships to be a stop on the national organization’s Send Silence Packing tour.

“This is something I’ve really wanted to do before I graduated,” she said.

Overall, Forbes wants to break the stigmas attached to mental health issues, promote awareness within the community, and help people understand it is OK to talk about mental health issues.

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