Megan Lane: Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

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Photography and Text by Megan Lane, Copyright 2016.


Empty Chairs at Empty Tables


April 11th 2016

5:57pm – Approximately 12 hours after Olivia Kong committed suicide

Due to the death of a Penn student today there have been a lot of Facebook posts about depression, anxiety and suicide. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m here to talk” or “It gets better.” However, no matter how many times you scream it, someone contemplating suicide probably won’t hear it. Don’t stop with “here’s a list of numbers you can call or you can talk to me.”

REACH OUT to those you know are struggling.

Ask them if they are ok, and if they lie, DON’T GIVE UP!

FORCE them to understand that they are not alone.

When someone is acting quiet and saying that “everything is just too much,” help them. How are they supposed to reach out to you when their mind is telling them they are worthless and will be rejected? When your roommates spend all their time in bed, your sibling mentions a panic attack, your classmates insist that they are too stupid for a class, or your friend hasn’t eaten in over a day, please do something.

I can’t tell you how you should help them. But DO something.

Because they probably aren’t able to.


These photographs are not intended to upset or provoke anyone. They may be a trigger for someone who has struggled (or is currently struggling) with depression. Please put your own mental health first. Finally, there may be some inaccuracies with the information on the Penn students who have died.

The University of Pennsylvania has seen 11 suicides in the past 3 years. The following names, dates and ages were the only ones I was able to confirm online. There are likely more that were covered up or mistakenly ruled an accident. And countless others have attempted suicide. Despite this, the stigma against open conversation about mental health seems to be getting worse. When the most recent suicide occurred, it was all that anyone was talking about, online and off. The response I received to this Facebook post gave me the idea for the following photography project.

When I asked for volunteers to model in this series, I received over 20 responses in less than a few days. And this occurred during the weekend before finals week. People that I had never spoken to shared their personal experiences with me and asked to be a part of this project. Unfortunately, I only had time to work with a handful of these volunteers, but I was touched by the enthusiasm and support I received.

Many people claim that they are advocates for mental health on campus. However, I have found that many are either frustrated with their inability to help or shy away when face-to-face with someone who needs help. When you see someone who is upset, don’t avert your eyes, walk faster, or think “it’s probably none of my business.” Reach out to those who need help. One kind word could save someone’s life. And if the following pictures make you uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Are you unknowingly contributing to the silence?

In honor of the following students:

February 8th, 2013

Arya Singh

Age 20


August, 2013

Wendy Shung

Age 24


January 17th, 2014

Madison Holleran

Age 18


February 4th, 2014

Elvis Hatcher

Age 18


August 24th 2014

Theodric Reed

Age 22


September 28th 2014

Amanda Hu

Age 20


December 26th, 2014

Timothy Hamlett

Age 20


December 27th, 2014

Alice Wiley

Age 26


December 31st, 2015

Stephen Kyle Wilshusen

Age 25


April 11th, 2016

Olivia Kong

Age 21


“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Now my friends are dead and gone.

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me

That I live and you are gone.

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Phantom faces at the window.

Phantom shadows on the floor.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will meet no more.

Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me

What your sacrifice was for

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will sing no more”

-“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

from Les Miserables 


About The Author: Megan Lane is a junior majoring in Behavioral Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2017. To read additional articles by Megan Lane, go here:

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