Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 24, and the second leading cause for college-age students, according to the National Mental Health Association.TCU students said the extra stress put on them by living alone for the first time and the added school work contributes to the feelings of depression in people their age.
Monica Kintigh, a licensed counselor at TCU, said the best way to prevent suicide is to talk about it.
She said counselors are available at Mental Health Services to discuss difficulties ranging from depression to adjusting problems.
“Are you struggling with thoughts of suicide?” is a question Kintigh said she asks students on a daily basis.
Ceci Lang, the head resident assistant of the Tom Brown-Pete Wright Residential Community, said there are different ways students can identify a friend who may be having trouble with depression.
Students who show no motivation to do anything – not even to wake up, go to class or study – are often victims, she said.
Changing eating and sleeping habits, dropping involvement in activities and avoiding contact with friends and family are signs of depression, Lang said.
Kintigh said friends need to take notice of sarcastic remarks made by their peers.
“Some people will say things sarcastically to see if you will take them seriously,” she said.
Both Lang and Kintigh said students are often very discrete about their problems, although deep down they are longing for someone’s help.
One student described her inner struggle, “I felt like I didn’t want to be alive, and I didn’t value life,” she said. “But deep down, I knew that I really did care about life and knew that there was a reason to live.”
Help for students
Kintigh’s advice to those struggling with thoughts of suicide is to find someone they can talk to. She said this could be anyone ranging from an RA to someone in Campus Life.
Lang said she and the other RAs are equipped to talk with students who need help.
“Many students don’t feel comfortable coming to an RA because maybe they don’t feel close enough to them or don’t want it to be public,” she said.
Caroline, a former TCU student who left the university after a difficult year in 2004, described her reluctance to seek help. She asked that her last name not be used.
“I was very embarrassed about my depression; I felt like it was a weakness,” she said. “I tried to hide it from my friends because I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was struggling.”
Both Kintigh and Lang said students don’t know their issues will be kept confidential, and there are resources on campus for them.
“Students shouldn’t be scared to speak out,” Lang said. “I have seen the resources on this campus do an amazing job assisting students.”
With nowhere else to turn, Caroline said, she made a choice to contact Mental Health Services.
“I felt so out of control,” she said. “I knew I needed outside help.”
Along with counseling available through the Mental Health Services, Associate Dean of Campus Life Glory Robinson said students can find help in her office. She said when a student approaches Campus Life with a concern, the faculty will help connect the student to the appropriate resources – whether it be counselors on campus, off campus, a hospital or contact with parents.
If classes have to be missed, Robinson said, Campus Life is responsible for making arrangements with the student’s professors.
Students take action
For students who know someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, Kintigh said, the best way to help is by listening.
“Even though it is hard, and we immediately want to try and ‘fix it,’ our job isn’t to solve the problem,” she said.
Kintigh said friends should try to notice invitations to ask questions because getting people to talk openly about the issue will help alleviate some of the feelings of seclusion.
Caroline said she agreed: “All I needed was someone to understand me, to listen to me and comfort me. I needed someone who could relate because I felt so alone.”
“I know now that I should have reached out to my friends who cared about me so much,” she said, “but at the time, I was so lost and ashamed that I didn’t reach out. That only made matters worse because I was distancing myself and making myself feel more alone.”
Lang said she has had experiences with students like Caroline who are unwilling to be vocal about the situation.
“A lot of students don’t say anything and don’t think there are others dealing with the same kinds of feelings,” she said.
Kintigh said talking is the best prevention of suicide.
“The more we talk openly about it, the more opportunity we have to help,” she said.
A TCU student’s recovery
Caroline described how her trip to Mental Health Services in April set her on the road to reclaiming control of her life.
“Going to Mental Health Services opened my eyes that there are people who want to help and who will listen to me and be concerned about me,” she said. “I felt like there was hope and that I didn’t have to fight the depression by myself.”
Caroline said she was glad she took the first step toward getting help because she learned she wasn’t the only one with such feelings.
“Before, I thought that nobody could understand the way I felt,” she said. “Now I know that even though someone may feel like they’re alone at the time, there are so many people going through depression. That is why it is so important to reach out for help and support.