Let’s talk more about suicide

Colby Echo (by Anonymous)

Last Wednesday, at one of my last pub nights, I was getting sentimental about leaving Colby after four years in my second home. I decided to take one of my last good looks around the Pub, taking in what’s around me to remember the memories I’ve made with my friends here each Wednesday night as we attempted to destress with a hump day treat. As my eyes glanced over the bar, I saw a framed Rugby jersey hung up on the wall. As my vision focused, I saw the name “Cronkite” and recognized the jersey as belonging to Peter Cronkite, a senior when I was a freshman, who I unfortunately never got the chance to know before he died by suicide in late April of my freshman year.

The night before we heard the news about Pete, someone I knew at Colby was also attempting suicide. As the only person by his side that night, I was unequipped with the skills to handle the situation, so I reached out to the Colby emergency line who connected me to the counseling center for assistance. Even in my state of panic with tears seeping into my phone screen, I calmly explained to the counselor that the situation was urgent as I watched my friend fall farther into a void of despair as he laid on the floor exclaiming his desire to die. The way the counselor spoke to my friend lacked vigilance as she told the person he should just get some sleep, that maybe his drunk state was confusing him with depressed thoughts and that sobering up would bring him clarity. As I woke up the next morning, I had no other resources to turn to on this campus. Even though they had failed me the night before, I woke up the next morning ready to email the counseling center as a second cry for help to support my friend in the long-term with his suicidal thoughts and to learn how I could help him in this process. Instead, I woke up to an email informing the student body of Pete’s death. I felt a strange sensation of utter despair and comfort. Comfort in knowing my friend wasn’t alone in feeling this way, and despair in knowing that someone on this campus felt that death was his only option.

I wanted to share this story to tell Colby that Pete is not an anomaly. As exemplified through my experience of that night, Pete’s death wasn’t an isolated act of suicide. Many people on this campus are hurting and they do not have a supportive counseling center nor a supportive administration to help them through their pain. One group on campus, who acts as a liaison between the student body and the Garrison Foster Health Center, SHOC (Student Health on Campus) has started initiatives such as the Mental Health Narratives, that “gives all Colby students the opportunity to submit narratives (which can be read personally or anonymously by a SHOC member)”; this initiative has allowed people a safe place to share their stories and has dismantled stigmas about mental health issues, which is a step in the right direction. But, we need to do more specifically about suicide, not grouping it with other mental health issues, as this leads to suicide often being glossed over. Pete had one wish when he died. Not just talk more about mental health, but specifically suicide. Many people may not know this, but Pete’s suicide note wrote “Please talk more about suicide -Pete.” He died by suicide on the campus and this was his one and only request.

I don’t want to leave this campus without Colby fulfilling Pete’s wish, but I can’t do this on my own. So, here’s my advice: Don’t individualize suicide. Tell our students it is okay to feel suicidal. Explicitly. Don’t just say it’s okay to feel depressed, don’t just say it’s okay to have mental health issues, speak the word suicide. Second, provide them the skills to cope with feeling suicidal and the skills to help people around them who express suicidal thoughts. Whether a student may feel this way themselves or will come across someone who will feel this way, they need to understand how they can proactively help themselves or their friend. This doesn’t need to be a required freshman event that people who don’t understand will text through and roll their eyes at, but it needs to be accessible to be people who crave it and need it to survive. I didn’t have it, my friend didn’t have it, and Pete didn’t have it. We were in pain and had nowhere and no one to help us provide us with information that could save lives and heal pain. And I’m not saying this campus initiated that pain, it may have come from before their time at Colby, but we need to step up and take students for all that they are when they come to school here on the Hill: their SAT scores, their grades, their extracurriculars and their suicidal thoughts.

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