College Student Suicides

Posted March 30th, 2010 by collegemomindebt and filed in Depression, Parent to Parent
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My mother’s heart breaks when I read about the students who’ve taken their lives at Cornell University.   http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/health/2010/03/19/2010-03-19_recent_wave_of_suicides_at_cornell_leaves_parents_worried_and_students_anxious_.html I can think of no greater loss to a family.  We all expect our children to outlive us and when that doesn’t happen and suicide appears to be the cause, so many questions and doubts arise. 

It is my hope that schools will add resources to help identify students who are contemplating suicide and actively help those students make other choices before it is too late.  It seems like some schools are doing this better than others.

As for my own college age children, I am praying that they will always know that they can contact me any time day or night and that they use the resources on campus and in the community and those that I’ve worked hard to extend to them (like the student assistance plan) to help them make healthy choices.

Signs of Distress

Posted December 22nd, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Depression, Parent to Parent, Student to Student

The story below is based on a true story but the names have been changed for confidentiality.

When Tawnya’s grandmother passed away after a long and painful illness it sent the whole family into a tailspin. Grandma had been the spiritual head of the family. She was the one that family members went to when they wanted advice or comfort. With Grandma gone the family stopped attending faith based meetings and stopped celebrating spiritual holidays. Family traditions were dropped. Tawnya’s mother became somewhat bitter. Her father became mildly depressed. And her sisters became somewhat withdrawn. But Tawnya was impacted most of all.

Unfocused student18 months after Grandma had passed away, Tawnya was in college and hours from home. Then Tawnya began to eat less. She found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. She lost her motivation for school. She took less care of her attire and grooming.

Amy was Tawnya’s friend. Amy listened to Tawnya day after day as she became more sad, more irritable and more unfocused in her school work and even in her conversations. Amy was interested in the medical field and so watched many documentaries and television dramas about medical topics. One day she watched a drama about a teen who was suffering from clinical depression. This prompted her to go online to look up “signs of depression”. She found a list like the one at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression and realized that Tawnya was exhibiting nearly every sign of depression. She talked with Tawnya about this and asked Tawnya to tell her parents and to ask for help, but Tawnya did not act on what Amy told her. The next week Tawnya began to talk about wanting to be dead and having specific ideas about how she might take her life. This prompted Amy to call Amy’s mom.

Amy’s mom had worked in the medical field for years and quickly said, “Amy this is too big an issue for you to try to solve on your own. You need to involve a responsible adult from the college that Tawnya trusts.”
Amy contacted a favorite professor that both Tawnya and Amy liked and trusted. The professor agreed that it sounded like Tawnya was in trouble and committed to call Tawnya into her office to talk with her immediately.

When Tawnya got the call, Amy was in the room. Tawnya’s first response was anger. She asked Amy, “How dare you share my personal problems with someone else. I told you those things in confidence.”
However, Tawnya went that day to meet with the professor. The professor heard Tawnya out and then, while Tawnya was there, she phoned Tawnya’s parents.

Within that week Tawnya was seen by a mental health professional, diagnosed with clinical depression and started on anti-depressants. She told Amy that she was sorry she acted mad and that she was actually glad that Amy had cared enough to involve someone who could help her get better. Within two weeks, Tawnya was feeling better and showing more interest in eating, getting proper rest and doing well in school. Tawnya and Amy retained their friendship and Tawnya got involved in the crisis help line at school. When she tells her story, she talks about how important it is to get professional help for a friend who is suffering from depression even if it could mean the loss of a friend. Confidentiality and friendship are less important than saving someone’s life.

College and Depression

Posted October 16th, 2009 by collegemomindebt and filed in Depression
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Campus WalkWhen I was a college student, I was hit by depression from more than one direction. I was over 2,000 miles from home. I was the oldest of four siblings and until I left for college I had had significant responsibility for the daily routine of my two youngest siblings. When I left home for school, not only was my personal routine seriously disrupted, but also my family’s routine at home was seriously disrupted. My parents had a rocky relationship and the “D” word was often brought up in front of my younger siblings. For most of my college years my father was laid off from his long-time employer. My mother suffered from a serious thyroid condition and for monetary reasons was not taking her medicine. Reports from my siblings at home about threats of suicide and heated arguments prompted me to phone home as often as I could afford to do so. However, as a first generation four year college student on a full-ride scholarship from a low income family, I couldn’t afford to fly home and make things better. I could only phone home and try to listen, speak encouragement and pray.

At the same time that all this was going on at home, I was very lonely at school. As a freshman I didn’t realize that campus shut down for the holidays and I was brought to tears when I realized I had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. My roommate was only hours from home but she didn’t like me. She had hoped for an affluent roommate who could afford to invite her home for the holidays. Needless to say I was a big disappointment to her. Thankfully, another classmate took pity on me and invited me home with her and I had a lovely and restful week with her family.

Not only was my mom highly depressed during my college years, but through my four years at college as I walked through campus there were times when I thought of dying and even had specific ideas of how that could happen. Prior to college I had never had suicidal thoughts. At home I had had a place I could go (a hogsback or big hill behind my house that I could climb up) and from there I could either scream out loud with no one to hear me or just sit and let the wind blow as I looked down at my house, my high school and the town where I lived and worked. Getting that perspective from on high served to calm me and help me put the issues in my life in proper perspective. At school I had nowhere where I felt I could safely get away from people. While I was doing well in my classes, I often had thoughts that the school had made a mistake, I thought I wasn’t really good enough to be there.

Thankfully, I found friends who could sympathize with my depression and loneliness. Many of these friends were students from other countries – some of whom pointed out that I was actually further from home than they were. One friend my freshman year was an upper class student who had a severe eating disorder. Her own struggles had caused her to be very observant and perceptive and she picked up on some of my behaviors as indicating depression. She took me aside and expressed her concern and just that simple conversation helped me feel I wasn’t as alone as I thought.

Now as a mother of three daughters, I am happy to report that so far none of my daughters have exhibited depression behaviors and yet they have each had friends who did. Each time a friend has confided suicidal thoughts to one of my daughters, I have encouraged that daughter to seek out one adult who that friend trusted and I have supported my daughter in contacting that adult to ask for help in addressing the situation. Each time the friend at first was angry over what she perceived as a breach in confidentiality, but then as that one trustworthy adult actually helped implement an intervention within a few days the friend was thankful that my daughter cared enough to enlist help.

From experience, I know that depression, especially in the form of suicidal thoughts, is serious, and usually requires the help of professionals to get safely beyond. Because I know struggles happen even in healthy families, I encourage people to use the resources that are available to them and I am happy to recommend resources like www.studentassistanceplan.com. I subscribe to this service for my daughters because it is an affordable support system for students who don’t have a hogsback to climb or a friend who’s been there to help when help is needed. The peace of mind is well worth the low monthly expense.