The 1,100 backpacks that covered the lawn in front of Malcolm X Plaza last Friday morning brought SF State student Patty Mazariegos to tears. Each bag represents the number of students who commit suicide each year — and she once had suicidal thoughts of her own.
“To think that my backpack could be lying here — it’s hard,” Mazariegos said.
This is the first year SF State hosted the Send Silence Packing event, which is a traveling art exhibit sponsored by the national organization Active Minds, as a part of the Suicide Prevention Regional Conference. The exhibit was brought to campus partly due to the recent suicide attempts by two students at SF State, according to Yolanda Gamboa, suicide prevention coordinator.
“We want people to not live in silence,” Gamboa said. “There are places here on campus where students can go.”
The first of the two suicide attempts happened Sept. 6 and involved a student overdosing on medication in Parkmerced. The other suicide attempt occurred Oct. 4 and involved a student who stood outside the railing atop the pyramid at the Student Center, according to SF State crime log.
The University was able to organize this event with funding received from the Mental Health Services Act, California Mental Health Services Authority and a grant from the CSU’s Chancellors Office in 2012 to train faculty and students about mental health, host peer-to-peer programs and host training in suicide prevention.
The program travels to colleges throughout the nation carrying the 1,100 book bags to show students how frequently suicide happens and to offer them opportunities to seek help.
“For someone to be so sad with their life that they want to be dead, it’s a horrible feeling,” said Mazariegos, a junior Spanish major. “It’s sad that all these people felt that way.”
Mazariegos wasn’t the only one moved by the bags.
“There’s so many of them,” said Michael Nguyen, a freshmen kinesiology major. “It can happen anytime, my friends, my family, they can be gone anytime.”
The conference had many audience members in tears, featuring many moving and powerful speakers, but it was Kevin Hines, the author of Cracked Not Broken, who received a standing ovation from the teary-eyed audience.
Hines suffered from extreme depression along with chronic suicidal thoughts. In September of 2001, at age 19, Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived, making him one of only 34 who have jumped and survived.
“Everybody struggles, everyone has a cross to bear and this is mine,” Hines said. “I’ve decided to take what I’ve learned, dealing with a severe mental illness, to the open public and say this is what I go through and I hope that my story inspires you in some way.”
Hines chronicled his story in his recent novel titled Cracked Not Broken, which tells his story of struggling with mental illness and his recovery after attempting suicide.
“The book, it’s not about me, it’s not about my story, it’s a story that is about what they call a triumph over adversity,” said Hines. “Those kinds of stories can reach into the depths of someone’s heart and soul and pull them out of something dangerous. I’ve seen it.”
One of the bags displayed a message written in silver letters across the bottom: “You can talk to someone, we love you,” a message from the Suicide Prevention Regional Conference.