Send Silence Packing @ Ithaca College

Backpacks were scattered all over Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites on Monday. No, this high-traffic space wasn’t a convenient dumping ground for students taking mid-terms or heading to the cafeteria for a meal. The backpacks were a powerful exhibition called “Send Silence Packing,” a suicide prevention initiative traveling to American college campuses. The 1,100 backpacks represent the average number of college students who die by suicide every year.

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“Send Silence Packing” is a project of Active Minds, a national organization promoting student mental health through branch chapters at colleges around the county. Ithaca College’s chapter, led by co-presidents Zoe Howland and Mikaela Vojnik, hosted Monday’s exhibition in Emerson Suites.

The display is immersive and thought provoking. Each backpack includes a personal story or a quote from someone who has lost a loved to suicide. “I feel like the visual display really invokes a certain feeling that just talking about it doesn’t necessarily do,” Howland said.

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“There were a lot of people who came through on the way to their classes and were really intrigued with all the stories that were on the backpacks,” said Active Minds member Kristin Butler. She said that the event was an opportunity for “continuing the conversation on campus, which is great.”

Junior anthropology major Paige Twinning commented: “Powerful and important. The visual representation and personal profiles of individuals really made an impact.”

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“Send Silence Packing,” which has visited almost 200 campuses and reached nearly a million people, is intended to generate discussions about suicide and provide information about suicide prevention resources.

Ithaca College’s day-long event, sponsored in part by The Sophie Fund, began at 7:30 a.m. and included an evening Speak Your Mind panel discussion on suicide prevention moderated by Active Minds member Kelly Madden. Participating in the panel were representatives from key local mental health organizations, including the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, Mental Health Association in Tompkins County, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes, and the Advocacy Center. Said Kaylee McGillicuddy, a sophomore psychology major: “It’s just nice to know there are people who care.”

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Based on surveys, the Active Minds national organization reports that most people attending the “Send Silence Packing” installation are left wanting to know more about mental health, and 95 percent of attendees rate the experience as powerful.

Active Minds has chapters or other operations on more than 600 college campuses across the country. In June, a study of Active Minds published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported that student peer organizations’ activities can improve college student mental health attitudes and perceived knowledge and significantly increase helping behaviors.

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The Fall 2015 National College Health Assessment, in a survey of 19,861 students at more than 40 American schools, reported that 35.3 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

According to the 2017 annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, data collected from 147 college counseling centers showed that 34.2 percent of 161,014 college students seeking counseling in the 2016–17 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide.” The rate increased for the seventh year in a row, up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year. The data also showed that 10 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

—By Margaret McKinnis

Margaret McKinnis, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a junior at Ithaca College majoring in Writing and minoring in English and Honors. She is a nonfiction editor at Stillwater, a student literary magazine, and an assistant director of the New Voices Literary Festival.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the Crisisline (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

Mental Health Awareness for Musicians

Being a musician can be one of the most fulfilling and wonderful things a person can do with their life. It can also be one of the most stressful and pressure-filled careers a person can choose.

Students at Ithaca College’s School of Music have become increasingly concerned about the overwhelming silence about mental health in higher education, including in our particular school. To combat the silence and better educate our community about this issue, last year a group of music students led by Mikaela Vojnik founded the Mental Health Awareness for Musicians Association (MHAMA).

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Music students face pressure to practice for hours and hours each day and to constantly perform their best. The pressure of being a student with an average of 18 credits per semester, and being a musician, and being a person, and all at the same time, can really take a toll on someone’s mental health. Even beyond academia, many musicians struggle to take care of themselves. They often value themselves based on their musical abilities rather than who they are as people.

MHAMA strives to promote healthy lifestyles and self-care for all students in the School of Music. It also aims to improve understanding among students as well as professors about mental health disorders and how to address them in the context of an extremely competitive environment. There is a lot of pressure from professors and peers alike to perform at a high level, making it feel as though there is very little room for error. This demand for perfection can make it difficult for students to take care of their mental health, especially if they are living with a preexisting or newly developed mental illness.

Our organization strives to educate and create conversations about mental health in the music school specifically focused on how being a musician intersects with mental health. We have hosted workshops that discussed performance anxiety, meditation, and stress management. We have held events that focused on depression, suicide prevention, and how to use resources on campus as a way to reach out for help and support.

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MHAMA’s overall goal is to create a more positive and inclusive environment within the School of Music, to promote a better understanding of mental illnesses and mental health, and to encourage people to reach out for help when they are struggling. It is important for us to create a culture with greater empathy and compassion for mental health.

By Hannah Cayem and Mikaela Vojnik

Mikaela Vojnik is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Music with an Outside Field in Counseling and Sociology and the founder and president of MHAMA.

Hannah Cayem is a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Music Education and Vocal Performance and the vice president of MHAMA.

Contact for more information about the Mental Health Awareness for Musicians Association at Ithaca College: icmhama@gmail.com