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Why I’m Mad About How My College Handled Another Suicide

I’m just spending a casual Sunday afternoon in my favorite coffee shop, balancing self-care with productivity, when I see a new email in my student inbox. This happens numerous times on the daily, but this email was different. Titled “The Death of a Student Late Last Night,” I had a feeling I knew where this was going as I clicked it open. The giant “Memorandum” label accompanying the school logo already seemed slightly too positive, as if overcompensating in the header for what followed. The email informed the university community of a student death that occurred the following night in a residence hall.

And then, there it is: “all indications are that the student died by their own hand.”

They couldn’t even say “suicide” associated with the student’s death. The word was only used once at the very end of the email to describe the “contagion” that can accompany suicides.

This makes me mad. In therapy, I’ve been working on allowing myself to sit with my feelings, especially anger, which is my absolute least favorite emotion. So here I am with my chai latte next to me and I’m mad.

I’m mad that my university has failed so many times to even acknowledge the student suicides that repeatedly occur here. And that the bar is so low that it’s worth appreciating when they do.

I’m mad that, although this time my university acknowledged it, they were afraid to even use the word “suicide.” Fearing discussions of suicide will not help address what is happening.

I’m mad that my university says there are mental health resources available when I know from experience how inadequate these are.

I’m mad that there are so many levels of bureaucracy that get in the way of students accessing support.

I’m mad that when we do access therapists and counselors, they have limited time for us because of how overburdened they are.

I’m mad that my school didn’t even say they are working on improving mental health resources, implying the resources available are already enough when clearly they are not.

I’m mad therapy outside of school is necessary for me given the lack of support on campus.

I’m mad that outside therapy is so expensive and my parents are barely getting by given this additional cost on top of my college tuition, which should be including this resource.

I’m mad society sees my generation as “snowflakes” when, in reality, we face so many pressures and suicide rates just seem to keep intensifying.

I’m mad our society doesn’t prioritize mental health.

College is a stressful time. It can be even more intense when you are struggling with mental health issues. And certainly, college can make taking care of your mental health seem like an inconvenience and a personal indulgence. In a culture where all-night study sessions are seen as acceptable, even glorified, how can we stop these student suicides?

I was suicidal at the end of last fall’s semester in November and December of 2018. I was taking a full course load and working an unpaid internship on the side. I had almost no time for my hobbies and self-care. I was in a suicidal place, overburdened by work and losing sight of why I wanted to be alive. I am fortunate to have a therapist who helped me through, but my college barely did. I walked into the health center on a day I was particularly struggling and needed immediate support. I saw a therapist for 20 minutes who was just filling out boxes about my diagnoses and current symptoms. She was in and out in a matter of minutes, not giving me a sense of support or making me feel understood.

Where do we even go from here?

For starters, we need college administrations to acknowledge this is a major issue in college cultures across the US. The fact I even felt good that my school sent out an email about this suicide (for once) is extremely disheartening because so many times, they simply ignore it. Sweeping these tragedies under the rug for PR reasons is not going to solve these problems or stop people from hearing about them. But if the college could address them adequately, then maybe there could be much more positive PR and no need to hide suicides in the first place.

We need more easily accessible mental health professionals who actually have the time to see students and support them regularly. They need to be well-trained and understanding of the college’s environment and culture. College is expensive and I wish schools would use tuition funds to expand mental health support for students over superfluous expensive projects like renovations and expansions. Taking care of students should be their number one priority, not making themselves more appealing to increase applications, decrease acceptance rates to be deemed more competitive and ultimately bring in more money — maybe this is just my school, but I doubt it.

And to really address the core issues of why students become so hopeless, we need to change the culture of college campuses that glorifies overworking ourselves to exhaustion. There is pressure from professors, peers and administrators to constantly be working, achieving and striving. This is good to an extent, but from what I have observed and experienced it goes much too far. Everything in moderation is what years of therapy has taught me. We need more emphasis on taking care of ourselves so we can better deal with the many demands that come with college life.

I am one of the lucky ones who has mental health support from a good therapist and psychiatrist, but even then, I have many times struggled with suicidal thoughts. So, what about the people who cannot afford the exuberant costs of outside mental health care? Colleges need to make supporting student mental health a priority.

I hope in the future there will no longer be a need for me to be angry about this issue, even if it may be good practice for me to feel this uncomfortable emotion and how to cope with it. Mental health care can make a difference and I believe if colleges put more resources and support into it, we could lower student suicide rates and change college culture for the better.

Photo by Daniel Spase on Unsplash