Mourning a Tragedy, Acting for Positive Change

Members of our Western Community:

This morning, you learned of the tragic death of a Western student. I know we all join in extending our heartfelt condolences and concerns for the student's family and friends as they now are grieving. We grieve, as well. And, Western's Counseling Center stands ready to assist any of you who might wish their support and guidance. They can be reached at 650-3164.

We have been advised by local law enforcement that the death is being investigated as a possible suicide. Suicide is not easy to talk about. You may not want to even read further. I ask that you do, for the well-being of us all.

I have written to campus before about this subject but we are a constantly changing community, and I think it critical to keep the subject of suicide prevention on all of our radars.

I also want to offer an opportunity to join with many others tonight in positive campus action on the matter.

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. Actually, less so among those in college than those of similar age who are not in college. But, still, at Western, we feel this pain year in and year out.

Can we change that?

Having lost a son away at college to this epidemic, my answer is simple: We must!

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 surrounding 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 … but not always for good ends. 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 care about each other. That is a hallmark of what it means to be Western. Do pay attention to signs that might indicate that a person you know may do harm to themselves. Or, to others. If you, yourself, are feeling at a loss with no solutions in sight, reach out for we will be there for you.

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"? Again, the Counseling Center can help at 650-3164. They are trained to assess and provide direction to faculty, staff, and students with referrals and, if appropriate, engagement of our suicide prevention team.

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 yesterday's death.

And, about tonight: Arranged long ago by the Associated Students, many of us concerned about suicide, Cyndie and myself included, will gather at 7:00 p.m. in Arntzen Hall 100 for a program and then share a "Walk of Life" to the VU Multipurpose Room where there will be a brief concluding program. You would be welcome.

We can, together, make a difference. Tragedies that do not happen do not make headlines. But, our campus, and every one of us, is safer and healthier because we do not duck this issue. Directly safer because of those tragedies averted. Healthier because of the values of community we commit to acting upon.

My best,
Bruce

Page Updated 11.27.2013