Recent student deaths are our wake up call

By now you’ve probably heard: Two of our fellow students died this past week.

Within that time, there has been a spike in student activity on social media and Reddit and students have even come to The Mercury in person for answers and what was going on after we discovered the first death was a suicide. We also noticed increased searches on our website with key terms related to student death, indicating that there was a real concern on our campus whether the second death was intentional as well.

While the police later confirmed that the second death was not a suicide, it still started a conversation about what was happening and what we could do to prevent it. The Mercury chose not to report on the suicide because of journalism ethics and our own concern for the campus community dictated that we not report the details associated with them. However, we felt it imperative to address the death because of the campus concern and to raise awareness about the issues it presents.

Following these tragedies, it is important to consider what we as a community can do, and the answer is this: We need to not only provide support for our friends and peers as we try to move forward, but we need to be better bystanders in times of crisis when those peers need our help most.

In a study conducted by the Suicide Prevention Research Center, 7.7 percent of college students seriously considered suicide, and 1.2 percent attempted suicide in 2012 alone. While the number of attempts seems deceptively low, the fact that even 1.2 percent of students have attempted suicide is a cause of concern and shows us that we need to do more.

So how do we start and where do we go?

We must understand that, as bystanders, it is crucial we pay more attention to friends and peers who begin to exhibit signs of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. According to the American Association of Suicidology, people exhibit warning signs such as increased substance abuse, feeling trapped, withdrawal from social situations and dramatic mood changes. We should seek help for a friend when noticing sudden changes in behavior, such as when a person who normally has good hygiene stops showering and continues wearing ripped or dirty clothes, or when a person who normally attends classes and regularly studies begins to miss class consistently and fails. A person may even exhibit less obvious signs such as decreased attentiveness or becoming emotionally distant. These more subtle warnings are extremely visible in hindsight, but being aware in the present is always better than mourning a loss in the future.

As a generation, we joke around with each other, we sarcastically comment about how we want “to die” when we can’t balance all our assignments. But for any one of us, that could be reality. It’s not a joke. When someone expresses disdain for living and a lack of purposefulness, we need to take a moment and listen. Just brushing it off is not acceptable. It is also crucial we empathize with each other rather than sympathize, though that’s easier said than done. Simply listening to someone and relaying that you appreciate the fact that they spoke to you can make a world of difference.

When we’re struggling, we tend not to seek help. We justify that our situation is not as bad as it is. It is so easy to convince ourselves that, “Other people have it way worse.” But what needs to be understood is that, first, when you are overwhelmed or in pain, you are not alone — many of us have had similar experiences, and there are so many people here to help in any way they can.

Second, we all must go above and beyond to show that our friends matter and their feelings are justified. UTD offers a variety of resources to students struggling with mental illnesses and depression, such as appointments at the Counseling Center, crisis appointments and the 24-hour campus suicide hotline UTD Talk. It is critical our peers feel safe in a closer sense as well, which is why support from multiple offices around campus that we feel comfortable in, such as the Gender Center, the Center for Students in Recovery, the Military and Veterans Center, the Multicultural Center and the International Center, are so important.

But what happens when someone we want to help believes they don’t need it, despite exhibiting obvious warning signs? The Counseling Center also offers consultation visits in which students can seek advice on how to encourage finding help and giving support to those students in need. If you are genuinely concerned for your friend and they don’t want help, you can always do more. If behavior persists and concern for your friend’s well-being is obvious, you can even go to the dean of students to express this concern. Don’t go against your better judgment if they say, “I’m fine.”

It is always better to take that risk and tell a person you suspect of suicidal thoughts or tendencies that you care about them and are concerned rather than to not say anything for fear of making them angry. If you are overstepping boundaries, they will let you know, but keep in mind that that push just might be what your friend needs to hear, and when they are ready to receive that support, it can have a major positive impact.

The ultimate takeaway is that in this time of grief, we should be there for one another and be better bystanders in regard to the events occurring around us. We need to be aware that over time, we should continue to offer support for each other despite how much time has passed, as everyone grieves differently. We cannot put a time limit on the support we give, and we need to be as present and observant for these signs as possible, because it just might save your friend’s life.

— Miriam Percival, Ariana Hadden, Cindy Folefack, Bhargav Arimilli, Summer LeBel,  Matt Strack, William Legrone, Ruth Varghese, Bharat Arimilli, Carolina Alvarez

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