Campus Tragedy, Community Opportunity
Jan. 21, 2010
Members of our Western Community:
You likely heard that, last weekend, we lost a Western student, a young man who tragically took his own life. Today, you saw a Western Alert message advising that you avoid a certain area south of campus because of police activity. That incident centered on a threatened suicide. Although the distressed person happened not to be a Western student and no injuries resulted, I feel compelled to share several thoughts. And, several commitments for you to consider.
Suicide is not easy for many of us to talk about. You may not want to even read further. I ask that you do, for the well-being of us all.
As uncomfortable as the topic may be, it is truly amazing how many of our lives have been or will be touched by suicide and the mental distress and disease that underlies it: family, friends, …. Suicide is endemic among those in the typical college-age group. Less so among those in college than those of similar age who are not but, still, at Western, we feel this pain year in and year out.
Can we change that?
My life has been affected, having lost a college-age son to this epidemic. Our reluctance to talk about such topics – suicide, depression, other mental distress and disease – was, I concluded, part of what can make ailments like depression the deadly diseases that they can be. Because of the stigma surrounded such topics, people do not bring the manifestations of a usually VERY treatable problem to the attention of others. In my layman`s view, our brains are very powerful and, mental ailments can use that awesome brainpower, reinforced by fear of stigmas, to hide their very existence from the person with the ailment. Dire consequences can then result.
So, I took a vow, no matter how personally painful it was, to never be too embarrassed or afraid to talk about these subjects. Or, about my son.
That is step one and I encourage you to consider joining me in that vow: break the stigma surrounding these topics by being willing to discuss them just as you would any other ailment to which we beautifully complex human beings are sometimes vulnerable.
Step two is to reinforce a culture in which we take care of each other. Do pay attention, no matter how remote the possibility may be, to signs you think indicate that a person you know might do harm to themselves. Or, to others. We take care of each other because we care about each other.
Step three logically follows: If you see a friend or associate manifesting problems, certainly speak to them if you are comfortable so doing. But, don`t stop there: alert those trained on our campus to provide help. Give the alert, share what you are comfortable sharing, and you may do so knowing that professionals will confidentially and sensitively proceed.
Whom do you call to pass on a “heads up”? There are many offices and I will list several below. But, you need remember only this. Call Student Life (650-3706). They are trained to assess and provide direction to faculty, staff, and students with referrals as appropriate.
We cannot be 100% successful so another step is, again, about taking care of ourselves when tragedy does strike: to feel and share our grief and our loss as we are today over last weekend`s loss. Partly, I believe, we help each other grieve by acknowledging that we are changed, our lives altered by tragedy and it is foolish to expect to simply “get over it”.
There are other steps we can take. We will be sharing those in months ahead in what I hope is an ongoing willingness to openly address these subjects.
We can, together, make a difference. Tragedies that do not happen are, of course, not something that makes headlines, that we can dramatically see. But, our campus will be safer, healthier. Directly safer because of those tragedies averted. Healthier because of the values of community we commit to acting upon.
Other numbers to consider:
- Campus Safety can be contacted 24-7 at 360-3555. They are trained to provide appropriate referrals.
- Counseling Center staff members are available to any students seeking assistance. The Counseling Center, located in Old Main 540, can be reached at 360-650-3164. After hours, the Counselor on Call can be reached at 360-650-3555.
- Support for faculty and staff is available through the Washington State Employee Assistance Program. They can be reached at 877-313-4455, or 866-704-6364 after hours.