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Students Need to Be Able to Discuss Suicidal Thoughts With Their Friends

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When I saw that my school, Northern Michigan University, was trending on Facebook, I was confused and intrigued. When I clicked the article and found out why, I was frustrated and angry.

If you haven’t heard, Northern Michigan University, located in Marquette, Mich., has a “self-destructive” policy, which threatens disciplinary action against students who discuss their suicidal thoughts or self-harming habits with their fellow students.

I feel this is wrong in so many different ways. Punishing a student for expressing his or her suicidal thoughts in any way can feel like shaming to the student. A person in a suicidal state of mind is often sensitive and not always willing to talk to anyone about their feelings. If they do talk to someone, chances are it can be easier for them to talk to someone they trust rather than a counselor at school with whom they may be unfamiliar. Talking to a friend may be the only way they feel comfortable asking for help. Punishing them for this, for seeking guidance from a friend or fellow classmate, could put their life at risk. If they know they will be punished for going to a friend, and if they are afraid to talk to a counselor, they may not look anywhere else for help when they need it most.

Not only that, but I feel punishing a student for speaking out is a direct violation of the First Amendment. I may not know much about politics or the government, but I know for a fact the First Amendment of the Constitution states every individual has a right to freedom of speech. Therefore, no individual should be punished for what they discuss outside of the classroom in their own personal life. To me, threatening to punish a student for discussions they have with their friends appears morally and lawfully wrong.

Knowing I could have a friend or fellow classmate who is experiencing suicidal thoughts and is unable to ask me for help makes my stomach churn. I have had friends in the past approach me when they were struggling, and it was assuring to them — and to myself — to know they could come to me if they needed help. I like helping people. I like encouraging people that no problem can go unfixed. I never thought I would live in a world where a friend could get in trouble for asking for help. To me that is so wrong.

So, if this article ever comes across the eyes of anyone in the Dean of Students Office at Northern Michigan University, I hope you know this policy needs to be changed. Please know whatever list of pros you have written surrounding this policy may be far outweighed by the list of cons. While this university is equipped with helpful student counselors and mental health resources, know that sometimes all a person may want and need is a friend.

News about suicidal thoughts in college students seems to have increased, and with that I believe we need an increase in acceptance and understanding. Telling a student they cannot confide in a friend during this difficult time may be further encouraging the stigma that people struggling with mental illnesses are dangerous or should be ashamed. Northern Michigan University, please eliminate your policy and help eliminate this stigma.

You’re not weak for asking for help.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: September 23, 2016
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