In case anyone was wondering, the desert is in fact quite warm. This past monday we brought the display to the scenic College of the Desert in Palm Desert. Temperatures soared into the high 90s early in the morning, which certainly feels strange for being October. Luckily, we recently got ahold of a shade canopy to keep ourselves and everyone stopping by the tables cooled off. The heat didn’t stop the students from coming down to the display—in fact we were lucky to to have so many great volunteers with the number of students coming through. Not only did we have the usual campus crowds, but several instructors brought their entire classes down to see the backpacks and read the stories as well.
Speaking of extra help, we were thrilled to be joined by Sonya Weisburd (one of the Regional Chapter Managers) from the national office for this display. For a few stops out of each tour we are lucky to have different members from the national office join us at the displays. Sonya made the trip out to California to meet up with some of her chapters face to face and to help out at two of the Send Silence Packing displays.
Because of the nature of class times, the crowds tend to come through in waves. During the slower times between classes we get to connect with the volunteers and with the visitors that spend more time in the display, and this is usually when the most stories come out. If there’s one thing I am constantly reminded of during these displays it’s that you never know who might have a story. So many people share their own experiences of where they are or have been through their journey with mental health.
I spoke with one student who had started college, dropped out due to struggles with depression and stress (without knowing that any of this could be treatable at the time), hit a low point, and then eventually learned of resources to get the help he needed. After seeking help, he is now back to taking classes and living his life. We spoke about how different the world can feel when you’re dealing with a mental health issue, and about how being aware of it (and of options to treat it) are the first step to getting better. We talked about how these problems don’t need to be hidden and kept secret—that it is ok to feel and to feel openly. When we struggle it’s easy to associate pain with weakness and loneliness with unworthiness—It’s easy to feel guilty if you’re not loving college, a time that everyone says is supposed to be the best in your life. When these associations get made, it’s then easy to want to hide our struggles. We at Active Minds want people to know how important it is to not be silent about the different things we are feeling and experiencing while living—both the good and bad.
In addition to the thousands of face to face interactions we have at each display, we also carry around a traveling journal where people can share their thoughts and reactions. There are so many messages of courage, strength, and hope from people that have struggled, are currently struggling, or have watched their friends and family struggle. One visitor was flipping through the journal and pointed out an entry to me that I hadn’t noticed before. It said “Seeing how much everyone misses them made me realize how much everyone would miss me.” After pointing it out she said that she feels the same way, and that before today she didn’t really realize how many options there were to manage these kinds of challenges of living. She also didn’t know there were so many people that cared—but she said she knows now, and she intends to make sure others know as well.