When I got the email from my college president a short week ago, I wasn't prepared.
How can you be prepared for an email that tells you a boy from your college, a boy in your year, has died?
How can you be prepared for a loss that shakes your whole community, even those who didn't know the person?
You don't. You can't. You can't prepare for something like this because it is tragic, unimaginable, and painful. No matter how deep your relationship with the person goes, whether they were a classmate or an acquaintance, a friend or a best friend, a mother, father, brother, or sister-- a loss is a loss and it shakes you to the core. This loss absolutely shook me, especially after we received a second email from the school, telling us that the coroner's office confirmed that the young man had taken his own life.
Every death is tragic, But a self-inflicted passing-- that's even more difficult to process. You don't know what to say, or how to say it. You can't even begin to imagine what the boy's family must be be going through. What his fraternity brothers, fellow engineering majors, and every and anyone who loved him is going through. When you don't know the person, you can only offer respect, and not memories. You can only offer support and empathy as you watch your friends who knew him well suffer. You can, as much as you are hurting with your community, want to take this tragedy and make something out of it-- not for you, but in honor of the boy you didn't know but will miss, the boy who has left a footprint on your college community.
What am I going to make out of it?
Suicide isn't easy to talk about. It's not something people even want to talk about. People don't walk, they run from the topic. It is seen in such a negative light that people who need the help, who need the support and love, they don't ask for it.
They don't acknowledge their pain, and they suffer in silence, in fear of looking "weak" or "inadequate". They don't want people to judge them for their struggle.
That is our problem. That is THE problem.
This cannot be thrown under the rug. My college has lost two students in the last six months to suicide. This could become your college. This could become your town, your community.
Maybe, although I pray not, it already is. Although people feel powerless in the light of these events, and wonder:
"What could I have done?"
"What did I do wrong?"
"Maybe this happened because I wasn't there enough"
We cannot and should not think those thoughts, for they will consume us and have the potential to bring us into a dark place ourselves. What's past is past, and we cannot do anything to change that. Yet, we can change we are doing now. We can grieve, because yes, grieving is a healthy and necessary part of the process. It's natural, and it should be encouraged.
However, We can also make a change. Start conversations about suicides, before a tragedy happens and we have to acknowledge the cold hard truth. It's a shame that schools wait until a death actually happens to acknowledge the severity of the problem and how damaging mental illness or suicidal ideations can be to not only the quality of that person's life, but to the lives of the people around them. Mental illnesses are just as real and valid and important to talk about as terminal illnesses such as cancer. Mental Illnesses kill people, and if we don't start talking about them, nothing is ever going to change.
I honor the two lives lost at my college. I feel for their families, and for everyone in my college community that was impacted by them. There are no words for me to truly express my empathy and sorrow for all that have been directly affected by these two tragedies.
I now more than ever want to be an advocate for mental illnesses. It is okay not to be okay, it is okay to ask for help. You are loved, and you are never, ever alone in this world. People value you, and you deserve to be heard. These conversations can save lives, and prevent articles like this from being written.
***If you or a loved one is feeling depressed, anxious, or suicidal, you are never alone. Call the national suicide prevention hotline, available 24/7: