What NMU Students (and Everybody) Should Know If They're Struggling
Dear Northern Michigan University,
You’ve gotten some heat recently for a policy threatening students with disciplinary measures if they share suicidal thoughts with their peers. This policy is a violation of first amendment rights, which you certainly know by now, but beyond this, it’s life threatening. I know you’ve acknowledge a mistake and I know you’re sorry, but I really want you to understand why isolating struggling students from their peers is so dangerous.
In my experience, people who don’t want to stay alive need relationships more than anything else. It’s hard to understand, but some of your students spend each day looking for a reason not to kill themselves. These students need something to live for. They need other people. They need to remember there are songs to sing and books to read and places to go and friends to meet and laughter to share. One of the most painful parts of crippling depression is the belief that you are wholly alone. It’s not easy to break free of this trap under the best of circumstances. It’s close to impossible for students who aren’t able to share their story — or experience the benefit of learning their feelings are neither unique nor permanent.
Asking for help is not easy. It’s not easy to call your parents and tell them you don’t think you belong in this world. It’s not easy to dial a seven-digit number and tell a voice on the other end you need to make an appointment because you think you might be depressed. No matter how long you’ve been seeing your therapist, it’s never easy to look them in the eye and tell them you’re planning to kill yourself. It’s not easy to tell even your closest friends that you’re not OK. But it’s important. It’s very, very, very important. There may come a time when a student needs help and the only person she can talk to is her best friend, or her roommate, or her RA, or the kid sitting next to her in math class. I don’t want her to fear punishment. I want her to know that she is brave. She needs to be heard, and sometimes her peers will be the only ones there to listen. Her peers have love and compassion to offer. Give them the chance to prove that to her. Give them a chance to remind her that she is part of a community, that she is among friends, that others have walked this path before her and others are walking with her now.
She needs to understand that even though she may feel like this is the end of her life, it’s just the beginning. The world is full of sharp corners and dark clouds. We all get hurt. We all lose things we didn’t think we could ever live without. To students who are struggling, know that you are not alone. The darkness sits in the bottom of your stomach and every day it seems to get heavier and after you carry it around for so long you forget what it felt like to live without it. But someday, maybe just for a minute, the darkness will lift. That weight will get a little lighter as you surprise yourself with a genuine laugh or linger in the warm sunlight or look in the mirror and recognize, if only for a moment, the pair of eyes that stare back at you. There will be days when you don’t feel so heavy. If that day doesn’t come today, you have to hope it will come tomorrow. Those days are coming and they may not last long, but they will be beautiful and they will be worth it. I promise.
There is so much life to be lived. Northern Michigan University students deserve all the opportunities to be reminded of that by anyone and everyone who cares, including their peers.