Finding Connection at Send Silence Packing®

Brandi Pretlow
Brandi Pretlow

Connection. I left our most recent stop of Send Silence Packing® (SSP) with this word brimming at the top of my mind. Although I’m fairly new to Active Minds, I didn’t expect the exhibit to have this kind of impact on me as one of the staff members supporting the event. However, I found that in between unloading equipment and interviews, I had the chance to chat with students, volunteers, and community partners, all of whom had stories about their own mental health or supporting others. I resonated with their stories, found commonalities, and found inspiration by the many ways people are mobilizing for mental health. They came to the event to further their own knowledge and connect with resources, and left the event having connected with others and sharing their own stories of hope.  

In partnership with The Hartford, Active Minds hosted this recent SSP stop at the Connecticut State Capitol on April 4, 2024. SSP is an interactive, traveling exhibit that aims to mobilize youth and young adults through storytelling to show up for themselves and their peers through connection, conversation, and advocacy. During the exhibit, participants wind their way through our self-guided labyrinth of 100 backpacks that display real mental health stories. This includes stories from families and loved ones of those who have died by suicide and stories from survivors.

The labyrinth has clear signage delineating between stories of loss and hope. This allows youth to choose the best way to engage in the exhibit that’s supportive of their own mental health on that day. After reading stories, youth can go on to listen to more stories in our Behind the Backpacks theater. At each stop, we ensure local mental health clinicians are on-site to support anyone who needs to connect after participating. Community organizations like The Village for Families & Children and NAMI Connecticut supported this SSP stop, among others.  

The final parts of the exhibit are the “Share Your Story” booth and “Hope Wall.”  Participants can record their own mental health stories, words of affirmation, gratitude, and words of support for their community. Then, they can write down how they would respond to someone who is struggling. Seeing groups of young people connecting with one another, hyping each other up while recording, and encouraging one another with affirmations was a highlight for me! One student wrote, “There will never be another you. You are special, you are beautiful, you are valued, and you are loved. Tomorrow is a new day.”  Amidst the formidable columns and statues in the Capitol, the warmth and feelings of support were palpable. 

Thank you to the groups of students from local high schools and colleges who participated in the event! We appreciate Active Minds Speaker, Dayna Altman, for sharing her story in person and taking the time to connect with students. Lastly, we are very grateful to Lieutenant Governor Bysiewicz, Mayor Arulampalam, House Speaker Ritter, and chairman and CEO of The Hartford, Christopher Swift, for your attendance and support.

If you’re interested in hosting SSP in your community or college campus, please visit our website for more information and fill out an application. Our team will connect with you to learn more about your community needs and work alongside you to bring an impactful experience to your setting. We look forward to bolstering your work to mobilize youth and young adults for mental health action!