It’s Time We Talk About Suicide

by GABRIELLA DEPINHO, Asst. News Editor

National Suicide Prevention Awareness week was officially Sept. 9-15, but most people consider the entire month of September to be dedicated to the cause.

The cause of suicide prevention and awareness is of particular importance to me, but I didn’t even know that the week had passed until I looked up the matter while writing the 22 Push-Up Challenge story. After the passing of my nineteenth birthday, I decided I didn’t just want to write on the matter but I had to.

If you read the story, the connection between that challenge and this op-ed is clear. If you know me, the connection between my birthday and this is not at all clear.

The truth is that 19 is a semi-insignificant birthday; nothing really happens. However, to me, 19–as well as 18 and 17– as well as every birthday I will have in the future, came and will come as a slightly anxiety-producing joy to me.

My weird relationships with birthdays is a side effect of my long and serious struggle with mental illnesses. However, this is not about me, what I went through or what I continue to go through because I get to continue going through my struggles.

This is about the student from Seton Hall University that recently died after falling from a campus parking garage; a friend of mine that attends SHU personally knew him and is currently dealing with the grief.

This is about Brandon, the kid from my town that died by suicide when I was in high school, who I heard about through whispers at dance class and through prayer intentions at church.

This is about Travis Twiggs, my freshman year roommate’s father, a military veteran with severe PTSD, who died by suicide when she was young and how he is never gone from her.

This is about Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell and every other celebrity that has died by suicide, that people question why they would die that way when they seem to be living the dream.

This is about the way people still talk about suicide as selfish, as an easy way out, as a an act for glory, as a coward’s decision.

This is about the way that people don’t talk about suicide at all.

People have so many conceptions about what suicide is, but I can tell you what it is not: suicide is not simple.

No suicide survivor or story is the same. No one can tell you there are set causes and pre-conditions that mean someone will experience suicidal ideation.

There are warning signs to look out for such as but not limited to the following, compiled from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): talking about unbearable pain, withdrawing from family and friends, anxiety, fatigue, depression, loss of interest, serious health conditions, prolonged stress, stressful life events, access to lethal means and previous suicide attempts.

However, in a post on Harvard University’s Health Blog by Patrick J. Skerrett, a former executive editor for Harvard Health, Dr. Michael Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School is quoted, “Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it.”

The truth of suicide is scary. According to the AFSP, there is an average of 123 suicides a day. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts. In 2016, adolescents from 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 13.15 percent and it is the third leading cause of death of members of that age group.

Mental health issues are growing among college students. A Boston Globe article published a few weeks ago on Sept. 6 reported on new findings in a study done by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that was published in the journal “Depression & Anxiety.” According to the study, one in five college students reported thoughts of suicide in the past year and approximately 9 percent of students had actually attempted suicide and 20 percent had reported self-injury. Researchers surveyed more than 67,000 college students at more than 100 colleges for this study.

As Manhattan is a school with a large and growing veteran student population, it is also important to look at the data surrounding this issue and that population. The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) released its newest findings on veteran suicide in Sept. 2017. The study reveals that veteran rates mirror those of the population that veterans live in; however, when you adjust the data for differences in age and sex, risk for suicide was 22 percent higher among veterans than non-veteran adults.

These numbers don’t lie: suicide is a serious and growing issue. Nothing about these numbers is glorious or easy.

With there being such clear evidence that suicide and suicidal thoughts are growing problems in college students, it came as a shock to me that we, as a campus, did not do more to raise awareness, but also make a change during the week of the 9th to the 15th or throughout the rest of the month.

During the week of the 9 to the 15, the only event that occurred related to the issue was a program I heard about hosted by a Resident Assistant in Lee Hall. On Sept. 17, the Student Veteran Organization on campus hosted the 22 Push-Up challenge. Those two events are all we did as a campus.

Now maybe, as the month isn’t over quite yet, there are more programs to come, but I have doubts about that considering last year’s events were quite similar to the ones we had this year.

One could argue that we are a Catholic institution and being that the Catholic Church has a complicated history with teachings on the matter, it is better we stay silent, but I raise a different perspective. As Catholics, we are called to love one another and to help those in need. Are those struggling with mental illnesses, major life stressors or suicidal thoughts not worthy of our love and help?

I doubt you answered yes to that question. So now what? You know the statistics, the hard numbers, you’ve heard my personal anecdotes and you’ve even thought about this through the lens of Catholicism; what do we do moving forward?

I don’t get to decide what campus groups or school administrators do about this issue, but as a community, we can make a decision. Maybe in the future, we host more events to raise awareness about the issue. Maybe in the future, the Counseling Center tables on the quadrangle to make their services, selves and location more widely known to students. Maybe in the future, clubs host events about self-love.

Not everything that can be done to raise awareness about the issue has to be a heavy conversation; we can find ways to make it inspiring and empowering. We just have to start having the conversation.

We are one collegiate institution in a sea of thousands; but if we start, maybe we can inspire students elsewhere to have a conversation, and so on. I rather have the conversation now than when it’s too late.

It’s easy to tweet about checking in on your friends, but it’s hard to follow through. It’s easy to say “RIP” but it’s not easy to talk about what happened.

It’s time we destigmatize; it’s time we talk about suicide.

Editor’s Note: Gabriella DePinho is an Assistant News Editor of The Quadrangle and a sophomore. The views expressed in this article are hers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manhattan College, The Quadrangle or its Editorial Board.