The Rise Of The Mental Health Movement

Courtney Burke
Courtney Burke

I remember speaking with a few people my age at a gathering. We were talking about ambitions, careers and goals. I would always say I want to wake up with a fire within me. Often times, I have heard the response, “but does anyone?” — and at one point, I felt the same way. But being a part of Send Silence Packing® while on the road ignited a flame within me. When this happens, you learn to fan that flame until your entire being is burning, burning for something larger than yourself. Although some mornings it is the tiniest of flames, I am so grateful to wake up every single day on fire and for those who help fuel this fire. I will not let this flame burn out.

I have returned to my home base and reflect back on the fall tour. 14 college campuses and a whole lot of action. We witness the rawest of human emotions and I am incredibly grateful for this experience. The most common thread is that we all have been effected by suicide to some extent, and we ALL go through spouts of depression, anxiety or the mind not being at ease. Over and over again I hear, “this is not spoken of enough.” The display is a safe space for each and every one of us to share our stories. It is a space for everyone to regain their power, to break free from what we have been conditioned to believe.

Many of the backpacks contain personal stories of those who lost the fight, submitted by family and friends. I carry hundreds of faces with me, every second of every day. At times, the weight of the work can be overbearing, yet I see their faces and they push me forward. Donating a backpack can be a healing mechanism for many and a way to let their loved one live on. We have had a number of donations this year and a few in which the family attended. At Robert Morris University, parents came to donate their sons’ backpack. They hung out all day and we talked like old friends. We even discussed ways to collaborate throughout this movement. A memorial service was held in which his friend sang ‘Hallujah’ and a song he wrote himself on overcoming the darkness. I found myself fighting back tears, but I also felt an overwhelming sense of hope as the day went on. I’ve never before experienced so much kindness- so many people coming together and strangers having each other’s backs.

While I can relate to every single story on the backpacks, some really stick with me in particular. This is the due to the fact that there are a vast amount of similarities between myself and the individual. I can’t help to imagine us being very good friends and somehow, connected in a way that can’t be put into words. Several times, Jay’s backpack has been the first one I’ve pulled out during set-up of the display. It is his hiking pack with climbing shoes, a book on National Parks, an Aldous Huxley book (ironically one of the last I’ve yet to read). I’m convinced that I’ve been to a few of the spots Jay and his friends are at in pictures. He also lived with bipolar disorder. We would have gotten along real well.

Moments throughout the day are just too much, so I’ll give myself breaks to walk around campus, focus on my breath and ground myself. I love soaking in a campus, as each is different.

A sketch book has gone on the road with Send Silence Packing for the last ten years. Students write down messages of hope.

A common narrative on display days are full of conversations that consist of how far kindness goes. Too often we hold back exactly what a human needs to hear and I don’t know why. Give that stranger the compliment that’s on your mind, smile at the person in the elevator, be kind to those making your coffee. Be the light in a too often dim world. A group of students at the University of Delaware started a club, “Kindness Counts.” The student who came up with the idea told me a few years ago, she was having a terrible day and it was down-pouring. She was rushing to class when another student, whom she did not know, stopped and gave her a flower and told her to have a great day. She told me that this simple action made all the difference and from that point on, she wanted to pay it forward and encourage others to do the same. Often times on display days, other organizations are also being represented such as this one. The LGBTQ+ alliance, multicultural centers, To Write Love On Her Arms, Wellness Centers, and more. It is amazing to see.

I thoroughly enjoy the openness and vulnerability shared on display days. In vulnerability, there is strength. Let this message be known. I had a conversation at a display during clean up with a male student. Initially, we were talking about our childhoods and how we have both struggled with anxiety. He then opened up about living with autism, and how difficult this was growing up. When conversations like this become the norm, you know change is coming.

There are over 450 Active Minds chapters at college campuses across the country. It is no easy feat to have Send Silence Packing® at your school and at each display, I am at a loss of words for how this next generation of students is taking the lead with the mental health movement. These students are powerhouses and have incredible leadership skills that I admire so greatly. They are innovative, collaborative, and as warm as they are smart. I feel privileged to have met so many wonderful people over these past two tours and can say with confidence that we are in good hands.

The solidarity among hundreds of students, professors, mental health professionals and advocates all across the country gives me the chills. I used to be so bitter and felt hopeless with the world, but Send Silence Packing® has opened my eyes to the change that is coming. The time we are living in will be known for years to come as the turning point. A world without stigma and shame is coming and now that we have our voices, we shall not keep quiet. We are the vanguard. Onward.