This past week, September 5th-11th, was National Suicide Prevention Week, and I couldn’t help but notice that my feed had recurring posts about signs of suicide, how to deal with depression, how to get help, etc. I know these posts will soon disappear just like they weren’t there for the weeks prior to this last one.
While I understand that suicide is a rather sensitive topic for some, it is one that everyone should be educated about and actively spread awareness on. Suicide has now replaced homicide as the second leading cause of death for teenagers/15-29-year-olds. According to Emory University’s research on suicide on college campuses, administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over one thousand undergraduate students commit suicide each year. Moreover, 1 in 10 college students has made a plan for suicide. As a college freshman myself, these numbers beyond horrify me, especially considering the competitive nature of a prestigious school such as Emory.
As outrageous as these numbers initially seemed to me, they started to make sense when I thought more deeply about the “why” behind these statistics. Surrounded by near-perfect people, who appear to manage their social and academic life so well, it isn’t surprising that so many students feel as if their lives are not enough. The fear of letting down our loved ones, being “less than” our peers, seeing our future goals drown along with our grades; all these reasons add up to make college kids easy prey to depression and other mental stresses.
College administrations often treat the subject of mental health and suicide lightly until their campus comes under scrutiny through a student’s death. Take University of Pennsylvania as an example, last academic year, six of their students took their life in a “suicide cluster,” after which the university took rigorous measures to create programs encouraging students to talk about their problems and receive proper counseling. Although plenty of campuses have suicide prevention programs, they are useless until something is done about destigmatizing depression and mental health. We live in a society where people are told to get over depression by simply “thinking positively.” If the solution was that easy, clearly so many wouldn’t have taken their lives over it.
Majority of the suicide risks for college students include feelings of failure, experimentation with drugs and alcohol, difficulty adjusting demands of college life, and other things of similar nature.
The root of the problem lies not only in the stigma of depression and mental health, but also in society’s idealization of college life. College is constantly reinforced as the best four years of our life: when we are young enough to be free from strenuous responsibilities yet old enough to enjoy the perks of adulthood. College kids are projected as invincible humanoids who can forgo any difficulty and are ready to head into the prime of their lives. How can they be depressed or anxious when they have no real challenges to face? This skewed perception further handicaps those struggling with themselves because now they feel defected for not being the well-rounded student society expects them to be.
Counseling programs and student organizations such as Active Minds that work to destigmatize mental health issues and raise awareness can only do so much. The best way to resolve this issue is to promote the idea of a college student as someone with beyond just a perfect social and academic life. It should be okay to not be a star athlete and on the dean’s list every single semester. Or winning Model UN and getting coveted research internships. While those things are great, they are certainly not the only thing that make a college experience memorable. If college students can realize that their worth is not compared to the success of their peers, then they may not feel like a failure.
College students, aged between 18-24, are leaving behind a life of instructions to make life-changing decisions on their own. How are they expected to create their future paths when they are being judged and dragged down for revealing their weakness to better themselves? They cannot learn until they get a couple B's to realize whether that major might not be right for them or not party every night to study for a class they are passionate about. It is time when we, as a community, should encourage college students to seek out guidance and care if they stumble in their paths.
If you are reading this and are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that you matter, regardless of what your grades or social life may be like. There are people out there who care, so please do not hesitate to reach out.
Link for suicide being second leading cause: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2016/suic...