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Flags commemorate student suicides

By Leah Coffman
On April 29, 2013

On April 22, 1,100 flags adorned the hill between Linn Hall and Kirkwood halls. Each flag represented a life lost to suicide.

The display was intended to go out on April 17 however it was postponed due to inclement weather.

According to John Hughes, advisor to Active Minds, approximately 1,100 college students commit suicide every year, making it the second leading cause of death only to car accidents. "When you say suicide is the second leading cause of death, people are shocked," said Angie Ziesman Weiler, counselor and advisor to Active Minds.

The flags were displayed by the Active Minds club, an organization devoted to mental health awareness.  Active Minds' Kirkwood chapter was founded last spring by Ziesman as a local chapter of a national club. The club's activities focus around raising awareness of mental illness and helping the counseling office in screenings for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Hughes said he hopes that the display and the club's activities around campus will help reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide. "It helps to learn about programs relating to mental illness. It also creates a network of relationships for career purposes, particularly for students in psychology and counseling. Most importantly, it can provide a direct benefit to other students."

The display of flags is being used as an extension of the Send Silence Packing program by the national Active Minds organization. The program uses a collection of 1,100 backpacks to illustrate the scale of college student suicides. According to Hughes, Active Minds wanted to create a visually dramatic display to highlight the problem of student suicide. "I think it will make it more real with a flag for each person," said Ziesman.

Hughes remarked that John Buse, dean of students, was very supportive of the display. "He felt anything the college can do to make students aware is well worth supporting."

"We're hoping (students) will become aware of the crisis line and the magnitude of the problem," Hughes said. 

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