Going along with this week’s theme and supporting Suicide Prevention Week (September 4-10, 2011) I am doing a repost of a piece I wrote for Arizona State University’s State Press newspaper. It was printed March 14th of 2003, but remains as important a plea as ever for students to support one another. In this column I am speaking directly to my college peers in a week where we lost a student to suicide. I could easily be talking to a high school or junior high community as well.
Talking could stop suicide, from someone who knows
by Riki Cleveland, guest columnist
published on Friday, March 14, 2003
My brother shot himself. That’s right, suicide. When you see me, and the topic comes up, please don’t lower your eyes and mumble your sympathies. Please don’t tell me you know how I feel because your dog Buddy was hit by a car. Tell me it sucks. Tell me you’ve felt like that before.
Tell me about the day your parents got divorced, you failed an exam, you caught your fiancée with another lover, the car wouldn’t start, and you just felt so alone that you wanted to disappear. Then I can look at you and say, “I’ve felt like that too.”
Believe it or not, more people than you think are feeling the stress of college life on our campus. In fact, according to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide rates are significantly higher for 19-24 year-old college students than for non-students of the same age group.
The rate increase is credited to the fact that most students experience their first bout with depression in their college years. Go figure. The expectations of your parents, professors and peers are very high. We allow ourselves to get caught up in what other people in our lives think of us.
We are so busy perfecting our blasé act, where we pretend to be unaware of what everyone thinks of us. We look as if we don’t care. For some of us, it’s a full time job. The impression is that we just can’t be passionate about something. We just can’t feel that much. It’s just not cool to be different from the norm.
Take my brother, for instance. He was an 18-year-old boy in his senior year of high school. He had a style he liked – country western. Dumb, huh? What a dork. What kind of guy walks around in Wranglers and a cowboy hat? Students can be heartless, and college doesn’t change that. Did my brother’s sense of style aid in his alienation that led him to kill himself? Maybe not; but it surely could not have helped.
In order to prevent future suicides we have to normalize mental illness and the actual act itself. It is not weak, shameful, sinful, or selfish. This type of stigma keeps students from getting the help they need. We have to allow the feelings to be normal.
It has to be OK for us to talk about them. It has to be the norm. My brother was in the U.S. Army, and it’s just not acceptable to be emotional in the military. Maybe that’s why not a single soul was aware that he was hurting. Maybe that’s why a cop and a detective had to break the news that a young boy took his own life to a family who thought he was happy. Maybe that’s why I now get a pain in my chest that just won’t go away when a person takes his or her life while feeling absolutely alone.
All of us have causes we fight for. Mine is suicide prevention. You know it’s the leading killer of men 18-25. You also know we lost a classmate, Jeffrey Gleason, who is suspected to have committed suicide on Monday.
You know what? Nobody’s talking about it. But we have to. Since 1950, the rate of college suicides has doubled for women and tripled for men.
Some of the rise can be attributed to the accessibility of drugs and alcohol for students. It is easier to self-medicate when we’ve had a bad day. Alcohol also lowers inhibitions. We’ve all seen the effects at a party or over Spring Break. Adding depression to lowered inhibitions increases risk-taking tendencies toward self-destruction.
We have an incredible amount of support around us every day. We don’t have to be alone. Where is your support? Teachers? Dorm mates? Sororities? Fraternities? Sports teams? We have to use them. We have to look out for each other.
Nobody is too busy, too macho, or too strong. Please talk about it, and remember your resources. Hotlines (1-800-SUICIDE), peers and family are all great places to start. If you know a friend or loved one who is feeling suicidal, please remember the following tips: be yourself, listen, listen, listen, try not to judge, and get help as soon as possible.
My little brother died a very lonely death. I was denied the opportunity to say goodbye or tell him that I love him. Now my life has taken a different course. I ask ASU students to please keep an eye on one another and remember that there is a better way to solve problems. Call a friend, call me, call anyone.
In the words of Dr. Chris Carr, “Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary problem.”
Thank you for allowing me to spread the word that suicide is preventable and it is only through speaking about it that we may erradicate it completely from our lives.