I’ve received a number of troubling e-mails since I enrolled in school. Since December, there have been four student deaths, and as far as I can deduce three of them have been suicides. Per capita, that is a seriously troubling rate of attrition. I’ve heard it said that suicide is contagious. When there is one, others follow. This is, apparently, especially true in adolescents and prison populations. That makes sense. Both populations are heavily influenced by those around them. Teenagers are easily affected because they’re so damn hormonal. Prisoners are already living in conditions that feel hopeless, I would imagine, which weakens emotional defenses. Plus I read that fully a third of inmates qualify as mentally ill, much higher than in the general population. It’s also fairly common for suicides to go up after a celebrity suicide, except in the case of Kurt Cobain, whose death actually spiked calls to suicide prevention lines and decreased suicides overall. This article talks a little bit about it.
The stress of being at a competitive university as an undergraduate must be phenomenal. The first in this spate of suicides was during finals last semester. I know the feeling of being so overwhelmed by work that suicide seems like the only answer. Twice I ended up in the hospital during college, the first was because I was feeling insane and suicidal, the second because I had OD’ed. Granted, I have Bipolar 2 and Borderline, etc., so I am predisposed to deal with stress poorly and to go through unpredictable emotional episodes. But the average student feels this stress too, the incredible student feels it even more. Sometimes when everything is hard it feels like there is no other way out. You’ve done the math and there is no other solution. I think the developing brain (which doesn’t really stop growing until your mid twenties) isn’t prepared to cope with certain overwhelming situations, which is why the suicide rate is so much higher in younger people. So if you put an 18-22 year old in crisis-inducing stressful academic situations, it easily has the potential to end badly. I’m no expert in this, but I am an expert in what it feels like to be a suicidal student.
When I was in the hospital in the fall of ’15 a fellow psych patient tried to hang himself. He was unsuccessful, but it was the closest I’d been to a suicide attempt that wasn’t my own. I was already feeling like shit but I think this event was triggering because only a few days later I jumped and broke my neck. Would I have done it had he not tried to hang himself? I don’t know. It may have been a catalytic event. It’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have jumped had I not been inspired to action. There’s no way to know, it’s just interesting to think about.
If you want to read something more scholarly about suicide contagion, I found this: Is Suicide Contagious? A Study of the Relation between Exposure to the Suicidal Behavior of Others and Nearly Lethal Suicide Attempts
P.S. If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. VISIT THIS LINK FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES!
And now for something completely different.
In other news, RIP Mary Tyler Moore. She was such an amazing actress, lovable in every way and influential in the modern definition of womanhood. I know she worked as an activist in her later years, which is incredibly admirable. I loved the Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore shows. In fact one of the first homey activities my husband and I did was watch through The Dick Van Dyke Show together. In my head, “our song” is “The Doodlin’ Song,” which I first heard on TDVDS but later heard on Weeds (I listened to those soundtracks a lot). Here’s the scene where they sing the Doodlin’ song. She will always hold a special place in my heart. We’ll miss you Mary. Go have a drink with Carrie and Debbie.