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Washington State University Criticized for Its Handling of Tyler Hilinski's Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Washington State University is using a controversial strategy to address the death of student and football player Tyler Hilinski, who died by suicide in January. According to CBS Sports, the school aims to be a case study for how to handle suicide on a mass scale, using a method described as “honor and move on.”

“We have very fond memories of Tyler,” coach Mike Leach told CBS Sports. “We’re proud to have the opportunity to know him. Also, he would want us to move on and have productive lives.”

Washington State partnered with the JED Foundation, a non-profit that specializes in suicide prevention in young adults. The school’s plan to prevent suicide “contagion” involves a number of measures. There will be no moment of silence for Hilinski before the opening game of this season nor will Hilinski’s locker be encased in glass — two things typically done to memorialize players who have died. Pac-12 reporters have been asked to refrain from asking players questions about their former teammate. “The less said about the suicide, the better,” CBS Sports reports Washington State officials have said.

While many of these measures follow the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s guidelines for school memorials after suicide, many suicide prevention advocates have taken issue with the school trying to “erase” Hilinski. Of the university’s new strategy, Twitter user Ivan Maisel wrote:

I am no expert on suicide. I am an expert on one suicide — my son’s. I am stunned at idea we should “honor and move on.” Their “move on” = “Don’t mention.” Doesn’t this contribute to stigma surrounding mental health?

Another user wrote:

This is fucked up: Washington State’s tactic for “moving past” the suicide of QB Tyler Hilinski is to … not talk about it or memorialize him at all. Is this the best way to address such a serious issue, by pretending the young man never existed?

The Mighty spoke to Alison Malmon, suicide loss survivor and founder of Active Minds, a nonprofit that aims to change the conversation surrounding mental health and suicide on college campuses, about Washington State’s policy. She said instead of focusing on how Washington State is or isn’t memorializing Hilinski, it’s important to speak openly about student mental health and suicide.

We can use this as an opportunity to talk about how a campus can move forward in a way that allows for healing for the community. In my opinion, that includes talking openly and honestly about suicide… While a campus can decide on its own how they are going to make a memorial or not, one way we can talk about it is perhaps focusing on suicide prevention more generally at the game, reminding students that they’re not alone and about the resources that are available to them.

For anyone who might be having a difficult time with addressing Hilinski’s death or a suicide on their own college campus, she recommended Active Minds’ “post-vention” guide after a campus suicide. Some of the strategies in the guide include addressing the death so people can better understand and process the event, pointing students toward resources for help-seeking, recognizing other students may be struggling and practicing self-care.

If this news is hard for you, know you are not alone — and there is help for people who are feeling suicidal. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Editor’s note: The Mighty follows suicide prevention experts’ recommendations for reporting on suicide. When sharing or reporting on Hilinski’s death, please refrain from sharing the method.

Header image via Hilinski’s Hope Facebook page

Originally published: August 27, 2018
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