This DC-Based Traveling Exhibit Wants to Encourage Conversations About Mental Health on College Campuses

The Active Minds exhibit Send Silence Packing will be at George Washington University on September 5.

All photographs courtesy of Active Minds.

For the first time in seven years, the Send Silence Packing exhibit is coming back to DC. The event is the brain child of Active Minds, a nonprofit headquartered in DC dedicated to promoting conversations about mental health and suicide prevention on college campuses.

According to Active Minds, the second most-common cause of death for college students is suicide. It also estimates that 39 percent of college students will experience a mental health issue and two-thirds of students experiencing depression or anxiety will not seek treatment. The exhibit, which has been traveling the country for over a decade, aims to change that by connecting students with mental health resources and spreading awareness about the importance of discussing mental health.

The exhibit will be on display at George Washington University on September 5. Backpacks will be spread out amongst the school’s University Yard, each one representing a college student who took his or her own life. Pinned to the backpacks will be photographs of the students and stories about their lives donated by their families and loved ones.

Additionally, Active Minds team members and trained professionals will be on-site to provide information about resources such as the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as to recommend referrals for mental health help. GWU will also have representatives present to discuss the school’s mental health resources, as well.

“Sadly, we have new stories that we add every year,” says development and marketing officer Margo Collins of the event. “[It’s our goal that] we are reaching somebody who is struggling themselves, somebody that needed to hear a message that they are important and the world needs them here.”

The group was founded in 2003 by now-executive director Alison Malmon after her brother took his own life. At the time, Malmon was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. She realized that no one on campus was having conversations about mental health, so she started Active Minds as a way to get students involved in discussing ways to seek help when needed. From there, the chapters spread to other schools, and the nonprofit was born.

Active Minds hosted its first Send Silence Packing exhibit on the National Mall in 2008. The last time the exhibit was in DC was at Howard University in 2012, and it was previously displayed at GWU in 2009.

Today, the group estimates that more than 15,000 students annually partake in an Active Minds chapter on their college campus. In DC, there are Active Minds chapters at Catholic University, Georgetown University, and GWU.

And that number may soon grow as word spreads about the group’s mission: This DC stop is the first on the Send Silence Packing exhibit’s nation-wide tour, and it plans to stop at 50 college campuses over the course of a year.

“A lot of these stories are people you’ll recognize, and that’s why it’s so important for an exhibit like this to help,” says Collins. “Send Silence Packing [aims to] make sure no one’s silently suffering.”

You can check out the Send Silence Packing exhibit at George Washington University on September 5.

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.