A Not so Happy Valley

Send Silence Packing - 041111

A beautiful chord had struck, one that human ears fail to acknowledge, but the heart welcomes with open arms. A room full of silence and heavy hearts was accompanied by 1,100 memories represented by the delicate placement of an equal number of backpacks. The quiet was broken by soft voices who brought comforting words and the desire to send silence packing.

Tears would form without concern on this day, the evidence shown by the faintest of lines upon the faces of onlookers. Lives taken by their own hands were grieved, and survivors of the tragedies relived their stories through personal memoirs accompanying the backpacks. 1,100 backpacks symbolized the number of college student suicides each year, but according to Jeff Brozena, “one is enough.”

A striking and heartbreaking display, Active Minds’ “Send Silence Packing” event occurred last Friday in Findlay Commons. Brozena is the president of Penn State’s Active Minds chapter, bringing the program here in the fall of 2010.

In their own words, Active Minds is “a rapidly growing network of thousands of college students working towards one goal: to create campuses where students feel encouraged to speak openly about mental health and seek help”

According to Brozena, “Send Silence Packing” is Active Minds’ largest event. He said the goal is not only to remember the lives that were lost, but to not forget the people left behind.

“There’s a heaviness to it,” Brozena said. “It’s a hard thing to deal with, but if you confront issues like this and spread awareness of them, hopefully you effect change.”

Brozena’s passion was unmistakeable, a spirit fueled by Active Minds’ selfless acts. His team fell directly behind him, each member’s eyes longing to remove the pain that so many people feel. Even the team’s advisor, Terry Watson, a residence life coordinator, was present to share kind words and be a calming presence.

Penn State’s Active Minds chapter is a glowing representation of the entire organization, founded in 2001 by Alison Malmon. Then a student of the University of Pennsylvania, Malmon lost her brother Brian to suicide in 2000. Active Minds was born out of her desire to “combat the stigma and lack of understanding” of mental illnesses.

The group is joining together with Aevidum, another Penn State group devoted to mental illness awareness, to host Dr. Paul Hokemeyer tonight in the HUB auditorium at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Hokemeyer is a regular on TV and a specialist in family therapy. The forum is called “Shatter the Shame,” and will feature Penn State students sharing their stories of survival and Dr. Hokemeyer speaking about mental health issues.

If you believe that you or someone you know are suffering from depression or any other mental health related issue, please seek help. Attend the forum tonight, or visit http://www.activeminds.org. These issues are common, and people like Jeff Brozena and his team are ready and waiting to help.

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