May 20, 2020
Stephanie Cahill is a senior at ASU studying psychology. She’s also the president of Active Minds, a student organization that aims to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and promote mental health awareness.
Through campuswide events, the organization works to inform students and faculty of available services both on campus and in the community.
Cahill said that the Sun Devil community is not immune to mental health struggles, which is why it’s so important to cultivate a culture of positive support on campus.
“We know that anxiety, depression and even suicide ideology is a big concern for university students,” she said.
That's why on March 3, her group helped bring the Send Silence Packing event to ASU. On that day ASU students walking by the Student Services Lawn were greeted with 1,000 backpacks laid on the grass. They represented the number of college students lost to suicide each year. Many of the backpacks belonged to students lost to suicide, with their stories attached.
This was the second year that the Send Silence Packing event was hosted at ASU; the exhibit was first unveiled in 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Cahill said the display was very moving.
“This display can be very emotional and hard to see, but the reason why it is important is because it is giving people an opening to open up for the first time with people around them or even themselves,” she said.
“We see students struggling at different points in their time at ASU. This display bridges students together by showing them they are not the only ones feeling this way,” Cahill said. “It is more common than people think, and the reason why we think we are the only ones feeling this way is because of the stigma that surrounds it by not talking about it.”
Jamie Alexander is a second-year student studying communication at ASU. She is also the secretary for Active Minds at ASU and was co-chair for their chapter’s planning committee for Send Silence Packing.
Alexander said the event raised awareness about suicide prevention and resources at ASU, including messages of support and the number to the national crisis hotline.
“Every person should know that their mental health matters as much as their physical health, and the world needs them here. There is someone to help, and there is someone to listen,” Alexander said.
When asked about what resources are available to students, Cahill said she likes to separate the different options into three parts; one-on-one, individual and group resources.
“There are many resources everywhere you look, and not all of them are going to be beneficial to every person. It really is about trial and error to know what type works best for you,” she said. “It is important to remember that some work best for different people so if the first one you try doesn’t help, try not to get discouraged and try another way.”
The smallest moments of impact are so inspiring to Cahill, and they are what keep her going, even though the work she does can be quite difficult emotionally.
“Every now and then I will have someone reach out to me who lets me know that my efforts made a difference in their life.”
Active Minds is asking students to be active in their community surrounding mental health. Although the display is gone and students are now at home, Cahill said there is still more to do.
“You can get involved with the advocacy side by joining Active Minds. You can attend a Devils 4 Devils training and have the skills and tools to help your peers who are going through hard times.You can voice your concerns as well as what you think is working for mental health clubs and higher admin at ASU,” Cahill said.
Cahill admits that she used to think that students don’t have a voice in this discussion.
“I was wrong; everyone has mental health, and everyone has a voice. Once I expressed mine and kept pushing until someone listened to me, I found that I could make a real change for my peers and myself,” she said.
Alexander said that seeing the impact that suicide has on people inspired her to start “working toward a world where no one has to work through their mental health alone.”
Despite the isolation made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun Devils can still get involved virtually with Active Minds at ASU or Devils 4 Devils. Students can also set up a phone or telemental health consult appointment with ASU’s Counseling Services. ASU Health Services is offering in-person and telehealth appointments for students living in Arizona.