The importance of fall prevention months

September and October are times to remember lives lost and enact change.

Leah Lancaster

September is coming to a close. This brings with it the end of Suicide Prevention month, a tribute to which most Minnesotans pay extra attention. Between 2009 and 2011, there were nine suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, causing it to be labeled as a “suicide contagion area” by state health officials.

Last year, suicide hit even closer to home for University of Minnesota students: In both December and January, two different students took their own lives.

September is ultimately a time of change. For many, it’s the start of a new school year or job. It also marks the beginning of the holiday season. This period of transition can be exciting for some, but for many others it’s a time of increased stress, anxiety and isolation — all risk factors for suicide.

According to the Office of Student Affairs, suicide is the third leading cause of death among college-age youth. Depression is the most common factor, which, according to a 2004 Boynton Health Service Student Health Survey, 7.8 percent of students were diagnosed with in the past year; 16.2 percent were diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime and 0.9 percent reported attempting suicide within the past 12 months.

Though this tribute is coming to a close, the month of October brings in Domestic Violence Awareness month and Bullying Prevention month.  Oftentimes, these commemorations go by without much notice because there are so many of them, ranging from April’s Jazz Appreciation month to May’s National Guide Dog month. Yet, suicide prevention, domestic violence awareness and bullying prevention are placed where they are for a reason. Though suicide prevention is a month before domestic violence and bullying prevention, in everyday life, the three are interconnected issues.

Women that are in abusive relationships are 12 times more likely to take their life than those who are not. Research also indicates that children exposed to domestic violence are two to five times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts.  According to a study by Yale University, bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide. Statistics reported by ABC News have revealed that nearly 30 percent of high school students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home every day out of fear.

More often than not, bullies are aggressors because they have been victims in the past or are victims at home. The pattern is similar for domestic abusers. The cycle is circular, and is extremely difficult to get out of — leaving many within it feeling helpless. Despite police intervention or legal action, many victims remain unsafe and continue to experience abuse. Many take matters in their own hands by taking their life or murdering their abusers.

Though victims plead self-defense in the courtroom, most of them are charged with murder or manslaughter because the circumstances do not match up with the self-defense law. The numbers of abuse victims that end up in jail are astronomically high. Fourteen percent of all men and 36 percent of all women in U.S. prisons were abused as children. Children who experience abuse are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime.

Though men and women both experience bullying and domestic abuse on a relatively equal level, domestic abuse is too often considered a women’s issue. Statistics show that abuse of all kinds happens to everyone in every racial and socioeconomic class, but male domestic assault victims are rarely acknowledged. The consequences for this lack of recognition are high. The media frenzy surrounding Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and his 45 counts of sexual crimes against young boys was incredibly disturbing, but what was even worse was that it went on for 15 years without any intervention.

Sandusky isn’t the only high-profile sexual abuse case in Pennsylvania — there is also Terry Williams, who is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 3. Williams was convicted of two murders in the 1980s. Both were men who sexually abused him in his adolescence and early teens. He was arrested when he was a freshman in college, where he was a quarterback on the football team and an academically gifted student. The news of his arrest came as a massive shock to the community. No one knew what was happening behind the closed doors of Williams’ life.

More than 50,000 students attend the University of Minnesota, hailing from various countries, religions and socioeconomic strata. None of these factors lessen any person’s risk of suicide, domestic abuse or bullying. Students too often believe that these issues aren’t woven into campus life or simply don’t want to think about them because they’re too depressing. At the University especially — a huge campus spread all over the Twin Cities — these issues cannot be ignored. For those of you that have not experienced suicidal thoughts, domestic abuse or bullying, that does not legitimize passivity. If anything, it heightens your responsibility to report abuse when you see it, and if you think you know someone who is suicidal, don’t walk away — find them the help they need. Make it possible for others to have what you have: freedom from depression and fear for your life.

September and October will eventually pass as all months do, but awareness of the issues they commemorate is important year-round.