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Jessica Burger

Originally planned for Friday, a nationwide traveling suicide awareness exhibit of 1,100 backpacks donned with personal stories has been cancelled in light of the student death near campus Wednesday.

Cal Poly Health and Counseling Services, in collaboration with Cal Poly’s Active Minds, originally planned the event as part of Suicide Awareness Month. It will instead have counselors, peers and mental health resources set up in the University Union for students.

The rescheduling happened after tragedy came to Cal Poly Wednesday, when police and Cal Poly officials filled Hathway Avenue following what police are now calling an “apparent suicide.”

About 1,100 suicides happen on U.S. campuses every year, and it is the second-leading cause of deaths on American college campuses.

Statistics senior Jessica Watson is the president of the Cal Poly chapter for Active Minds, a national student-led organization that works to change the way mental illness is perceived and talked about on college campuses.

“I’m disappointed,” said Watson, who had been helping to plan the event during the past six months. “But it doesn’t compare with the shock family and friends will have to deal with from the aftermath of losing someone they love.”

After Wednesday’s tragedy, Watson said the nature of the Send Silence Packing event “would feel insensitive.”

Cal Poly counselor Hannah Roberts, who helped organize the event originally, said in addition to counselors and peers, students will be able to get mental health screenings and speak with volunteers from a local emotional support organization, SLO Hotline.

“No one is immune to mental health issues,” Roberts said. “We see the whole range here at Cal Poly, from students feeling homesick or going through a breakup, to people diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia.”

According to a mental health survey that was given to a random sample of Cal Poly students this past spring, an estimated 23 percent of the student body suffers from depression or an anxiety disorder. The national average is 27 percent.

Health and Counseling Services are available to all students at Cal Poly, and the center urges anyone feeling emotional stress to come in, call or make an appointment online.

Watson said it’s important to talk to professionals about mental health issues.

“You can’t address your depression if you don’t talk about it,” she said. “A lot of the time people who are depressed can think it’s some sort of weakness or character flaw, (but) it’s not. It’s just a sign of a burden they have carried too long.”

In honor of Suicide Awareness Month, a candlelight ceremony will be held in the atrium of the Robert E. Kennedy library on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

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