Often times when we find ourselves staring at a large number, possibly one with lots of zeros at the end, we have to try and work around the number to give it meaning. What does it mean that the sun’s diameter is 1,392,000 km? What does it mean that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust? What does 6.02 x 1023 really look like?
Without any comparison or explanation, these are just digits. It doesn’t register in our mind except as “really big number.” However, when your professor tells you if the sun were the size of a basketball, the earth would be the size of a sesame seed 25 meters away, then you can visualize it. When you hear that six million people standing side by side could span the entire United States from coast to coast, you can begin to understand how much six million is. If you were told that a mole of marshmallows could cover the United States in a pile nearly 7,000 miles deep, you realize maybe there is such a thing as too many s’mores. So how can we visualize the 1,100 suicides that happen every year among college students?
Active Minds, a group of students on campus committed to being mental health advocates working to reduce stigma, has come up with an answer. During Suicide Prevention Week, from Sept. 25 through Sept. 29, the lawn in front of the Student Union is serving as a “Field of Memory.” To give students a way to visualize the impact suicide has on communities, like the University of Connecticut, one thousand yellow flags are stuck in the ground to represent all the lives lost.
The display, however, is not just to allow students to get a grasp of what this loss means, but can also be a way to remember victims of suicide. Students can write on flags: messages to friends or family members they have lost, general notes to all victims or just names.
“It lets people commemorate people they love,” Active Minds member and seventh semester psychology major, Megan Sulpizi, said. “It just lets them be there and be supportive.”
For students who were unfamiliar with the display, however, they felt there wasn’t enough indication about what was going on.
After being told how many flags there were and what they represented, third semester psychology major, Mariah Fortunato, was surprised and said the display “resonated.” However, she also believed it would resonate with people a lot more if there was a “clear indication” of what was going on.
“A lot of people who walk by don’t know,” fifth semester economics and Spanish major Justin Cedeno, said. He said if it were advertised more or if the statistics made more prominent, more students would feel impacted.
Even when looking at the display, most students who guessed the number of flags estimated a number in the lower triple digits. After being told the real number of suicides each year, students were often surprised and surveyed the field more closely. Whether we underestimate, or overestimate, seeing a thousand flags with personal names, notes and messages is one way Suicide Prevention Week can make the problem more real to students.
Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.