Private problem needs public attention

Suicide is second only to automobile accidents as a killer of college students.

What are we and our parents constantly reminded of as the dangers of college campuses? The usual suspects. Recite them with me: alcohol abuse, experimentation with illegal drugs, irresponsible or unsafe sex.

How often are we warned about suicide?

Now that studies, such as the one commissioned by the American College Health Association, show that 15 percent of students are clinically depressed, perhaps we’d better start paying attention.

Suicide is second only to automobile accidents as a killer of college students, and the suicide rate among student has doubled since the 1950s. The greatest danger is depression and suicide continue to be taboo and go undiscussed in our families and residence-hall meetings.

“We’ve spent more time educating the public about West Nile virus than we have suicide,” said Larry Hejtmanek, a psychiatrist with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Newton, Mass.

The first task is to begin the healing for those who are clinically “at risk.” One only needs to see the ubiquitous ad campaigns for anti-depressant medications, such as Zoloft or Prozac, to know society has begun to remove some of the centuries-old stigma and shame of feeling really bad or sad about your life.

Like a meal at University Dining Services or a physical at Boynton Health Service, counseling services should be a welcoming and common stop for stressed-out students.

Young people don’t always like to ask for help. Nor should adults always have to notice the “tell-tale signs.” The only thing either can do is know there’s an established place or two to go for healing.

We should think twice about calling it a “crisis center” or a “mental-health hotline.” People don’t want to feel as though they’re dialing 911. They should be able to walk in to see an adviser as if they were clearing holds on their registration records. Whether it’s Willey Hall or Coffman Union, Johnston Hall or Fraser Hall, there should be a popular destination with someone there to listen and, if necessary, refer them. Of course, counseling services do exist at the University, but students might feel uneasy about heading to a medical building just to talk to somebody about their worries.

Another option would be a walk-in satellite office for University Counseling and Consulting Services at Coffman Union. While there currently are beginning-of-the-semester seminars about first-year acclimation and time management, sometimes those seem more suited to the Carlson School of Management than to Coffman Union.

The trouble with suicide is that to the troubled, it is not difficult to rationalize. There are endless peer pressures, parents’ and professors’ expectations, an excess of down or alone time, failed romances, and being apart from loved ones. There’s only one of each of us and so many others to impress or disappoint. We all want an escape from hopelessness. But it takes a lot of courage, I think too much, to surrender yourself to a clinic when life overwhelms.

Talking about suicide does not mean we are condoning it or codifying it as a way out. We just need to recognize students don’t always scream for help and adults shouldn’t hunt for weaknesses. It’s not up to us or them. More it is everyone’s responsibility to be a little more sensitive and do our part to make it easier to get help in an urban stress-box of 80,000 students and employees.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]