This past monday we finished off the fourth Send Silence Packing tour with another city display. We set up the 1,100 backpacks in the center of Love Park—a popular area in downtown Philadelphia. Setting up in such a public place gives us a chance to reach out to a wider demographic and speak with people that we might not normally interact with on a college campus. These stops are so important because although we do most of our work on campuses, mental health applies to everyone. The stories that are shared with us are not only students, but also parents, grandparents, siblings, children, friends, and neighbors.
Back when we did our first major city display during the first tour, we didn’t quite know what to expect as far as people’s reactions. Every city since then, including our most recent stop in Philadelphia, has shown us that people are willing and excited to help change the conversation about mental health. Whether it’s someone who has struggled with their own mental health issues or someone who has a relative in college, people are consistently eager to educate themselves on what they can do to be a part of this movement. Many people would not only take information for themselves, but take handfuls to distribute in their own workplaces, schools, and homes.
It’s amazing to see the kind of immediate action that Send Silence Packing inspires in people. Early in the afternoon an older man came to the table and asked what all the bags were about. I spent some time talking to him and showing him the resources and information we had. After our talk he went off to read some of the hundreds of personal stories displayed around Love Park. I thought that was the end of our interaction, but 30 minutes later he came back to the table and asked if he could help distribute our flyers and help direct people towards the display. We gave him a T-Shirt, directions on how to tell people about the event, and he then spent the next 4 hours helping to bring hundreds of people towards the display—he even helped pack up the 1,100 backpacks at the end of the day.
It’s interactions that these that can remind us that it’s never too late to take action. This man was simply passing by and decided to do what he was able to spread this message. There are things that we can all do, from anywhere in the world, to support the mental health of ourselves and those around us. I know the phrase is a little corny, but knowledge really is power here—you can take an active role in all of this by taking some time to educate yourself and those around you about mental health. If we can learn about warning signs and ways to stay mentally fit, we can keep an eye out for ourselves and each-other.