Behind the Backpacks: Exhibit to send silence packing around suicide, mental health

Approximately 1,000 college students across the U.S. take their own life every year. One way a local mom, who lost her beloved daughter to suicide, keeps her memory alive is to help prevent others from doing the same.

She has organized a special exhibit at Lone Star College to open the eyes of everyone in our community and to send silence packing.

Kim Hess says if you don't talk about it, you can't save lives. She's teaming up with an organization called Active Minds to display 1,000 backpacks on the campus of Lone Star College-Montgomery.

"Each backpack has a personal story of a life that has been lost too soon to suicide, and it's displayed on college campuses around our nation to visually show you how many college-age students we lose to suicide every year. So, it's a very eye-awakening event, but also, it's great because we're going to be providing resources there for people to learn the signs of someone who might be struggling and learn how to reach out to them and get them help. That's the most important thing," exclaims Kim.

Lone Star was strategically chosen for the Behind the Backpacks display.

"Sadly, in Montgomery County, we lead all the counties in Texas with the highest rate of teen suicide. Our family has personally been affected by suicide. We lost our daughter Cassidy to suicide in 2015, just right before Christmas, and so we just knew that if it was something that could happen to our daughter and our family then it can certainly happen to any family because no one's immune to the silent epidemic and because no one's talking about it, so we feel like it's so important to talk about it to break the silence, and to shed light on this dark topic so others can talk about it and so we can save lives," says Kim.

RELATED: Suicide prevention: How to help those who are struggling

The Director of Advising and Counseling at Lone Star College hopes the traveling backpack display will leave a lasting impression on the community.

"Given the nature of people, there are always life experiences that lead them down an emotional pathway, if you will. Given what we've all just been through over the past 18 months with COVID on top of our culture right now, it's just fast-paced and it's just a very high demand for all student levels, all levels of learning, and this is something that impacts all ages, there are no gaps in relation to socio-economic or age or whatever it may be people across the board experience levels of emotional distress," states Matthew Samford, who is the Director of Advising and Counseling at Lone Star College-Montgomery.

Important messages include:  it's okay to not be okay, but realize help is available! There will be a student testimony and speakers will offer resources. This backpack display is open to the public, not just students.

RELATED: Mental health resources are available if you need help

Kim is doing everything she can to prevent other families from her own family's tragedy.

"This is Cassidy. She was a beautiful 16-year-old junior at College Park High School here in The Woodlands. She was on the varsity cheer squad. She was the sweetest, silliest girl that you could probably ever meet and she was so kind. She didn't take herself too seriously, she didn't take life seriously, she was always just happy with the biggest smile on her face. She was absolutely the last person that you would think would ever consider taking her life and it just came as a complete shock to our family, after losing her. We hear so many personal stories of how she would go out of her way to help others when they were struggling, and it's just so hard to believe that she didn't reach out for help herself and she was struggling," explains Kim.

Kim started the organization "Cassidy Joined for Hope" in honor of her daughter, and she encourages everyone to reach out and ask for help if you're hurting. You are not alone.

The exhibit is available to view all day today, Monday, October 4. The community presentation is at 6 p.m. tonight. Parking is widely available. There's also a virtual version with testimonies and many resources that you check it out if you or someone you know is struggling.

For more information:

Virtual visit:

If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 (Crisis Text Line).

CLICK HERE for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.