New Orleans was our only city display on the Send Silence Packing Southern tour, and it was an amazing experience. Candace Daniels and Rachael Datz – from the national office in Washington, DC – came to help out at Lafayette Square. We also had students from the Active Minds chapter at Loyola University volunteering their time the entire day.
One of the things we like the most about doing a city display is the opportunity to reach out to a broader audience. When we’re at colleges, our main focus is the students. We will get campus employees and administrators interacting with the display, but they make up a small percentage since the majority of interactions are with college students. It gives Active Minds a chance to reach an audience that has young people in their lives that they can speak with about mental health issues.
At the end of a display in a city, I like to look back at all of the conversations that I’ve had with people and remind myself of how different each person was from each other, but how similar our conversations were. This brings up the important fact that mental health affects us all, and that mental illness doesn’t only affect one “type” of person. Mental illness doesn’t care about a persons age, race, socioeconomic status, or profession. This is especially coherent when I realize how many stories I hear from people that are connected with our movement in one way or another.
We were in the Business District of New Orleans and were surrounded by several offices. There were business professionals that came throughout the day to tell us that they kept looking out of their window and noticed all of the back packs set-up and needed to see what was going on. Once people heard about what we were doing, they shared their personal experiences of losing friends and family to suicide. Several people came down from their offices to tell stories, show us pictures they had taken from their window, and share gratitude for us being in the city. One man said that there were several people from his graduating high school class that had died by suicide, but that nobody would talk about it. Seeing the display and knowing that young people are working to end stigma toward mental health made him realize things are changing in a positive direction.
We got very similar reactions from the homeless population that interacted with the display. They shared their stories of loved ones that they lost and personal struggles with mental health. We had a couple add a story to one of the backpacks and volunteer their time to help us set-up and take down the display. I spent some time listening to their experience of traveling through the south without a home and how they have gotten help along the way. They also shared how they have helped others to cope with mental illness in positive ways.
The great thing that Send Silence Packing does in a city is bring people from all different places in life to one event. There are so many people in big cities that are having so many different life experiences that they forget how similar we are to each other. People forget that we can help each other and that people care, even if they are a stranger. Send Silence Packing reminds a lot of people – or teaches people for the first time – to speak up and reach out when you notice someone struggling. It shows us that it is okay to ask for help when we need it, no matter who we are.