May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we at Civilian are passionate about destigmatizing mental health issues, and improving access to treatment. That’s why on April 22nd, a few of us from Civilian went to downtown Riverside to show our support at the Send Silence Packing event hosted by Active Minds and the County of Riverside. Send Silence Packing is an exhibit that travels throughout the united States to raise awareness about suicide prevention, and break the silence that surrounds mental health issues.
More than 1,000 backpacks representing the number of college students that die by suicide every year, were displayed on the floor of the Riverside Pedestrian Mall on Main St. in the shape of a sun next to two arrows pointing toward each other. Seeing the backpacks laid out like this was poignant. The sheer number was shocking, but the fact that they were arranged in the shape of a sun represented hope. Even more moving were the personal stories attached to each backpack, where family members remembered their loved ones by listing the things they loved to do, or by recounting the last day they spoke to them or saw them. Some of the backpacks displayed were the actual deceased’s backpack that they used for school. Many signs were also posted, encouraging people who are suffering to call for help, and to know they are not alone.
To complement this powerful message, the keynote speaker for the event was a former California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer, Kevin Briggs, who gave an impressive account of his life and experience with mental illness and suicide. For most of his tenure with the CHP, Officer Briggs was stationed at the Golden Gate Bridge, which is unfortunately the location with the highest loss of life to suicide. He dove deep into personal health issues, losing close relatives, serious accidents, and his own mental health struggles. He reiterated that we need more resources to prevent suicide, more and better training for officers, and to come together as communities to support those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
By giving real life examples from his experience, Officer Briggs reinforced to the audience that talking about suicide will not lead to more suicides. He also noted that suicides tends to increase in the springtime, and that those who have lost loved ones to suicide are in more danger of dying by suicide themselves. Importantly, he also explained what people should and should not say when talking to someone who is suicidal. His experience helped him come up with three steps to keep in mind when approaching someone who may be suicidal: “Validation, Normalization, Gratitude.” The steps are: 1.) validate the feelings someone shares with you, 2.) normalize their situation, and 3.) thank them for sharing their feelings with you. Now, Officer Briggs regularly goes to schools to talk about suicide prevention and dispel myths about it for teenagers and middle schoolers.
We are proud to say that many of our clients are using their platforms to raise mental health awareness, especially in San Diego and Riverside Counties, and we are here to help them achieve this goal. We can all help in preventing suicide and erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Check out how you can be a part of the solution by visiting https://up2riverside.org/mental-health-month/