Students who have had thoughts about suicide should be aware that they are not alone and help is at hand if they choose to seek it out, said a campus counselor.Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds and the second leading cause of death among college-age students, according to the National Mental Health Association.
“One in 17 people have had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year,” said Monica Kintigh, a licensed professional counselor in Mental Health Services at TCU.
Kintigh said this would translate to one person living on every dorm floor on campus as having dealt with the issue personally.
Kintigh said about 90 TCU students come for treatment at the Mental Health Center every week, with difficulties ranging from depression to adjusting problems.
A question she says she asks students on a daily basis is, “Are you struggling with thoughts of suicide?”
A TCU student’s struggle
Caroline is a former TCU student who left school after her sophomore year in 2004 because of her struggle with depression. She said she was willing to share her story so that students could understand the very prevalent, but often taboo, situation of many students on the TCU campus.
She asked that her last name not be used.
“During my sophomore year, I sunk into a crushing depression,” Caroline said. “I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. It was almost like life around me was a blur – like I was stuck in a dark cloud. I couldn’t think clearly.
“Life often felt surreal, like I wasn’t a part of reality. I felt like a shadow of myself. It’s like I was in slow motion. Everything was slowed down and suppressed.”
Associate Dean Glory Robinson said she has spoken with a number of students suffering from severe depression and thoughts of suicide in the Campus Life office.
Although she and the other faculty deal with the subject on a professional level, Robinson said, anyone can be personally impacted.
“We can all be touched by this,” she said. “The incidence of suicide can affect anybody.”
Kintigh said suicide has a profound effect on those around the victim, including feelings of anger, guilt and confusion.
“When someone attempts suicide, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” she said.
“Family and friends feel the typical feelings of grief,” Kintigh said, “but there is a whole other layer of feelings on top when suicide is involved.”
She said students often ask themselves what they missed or how they could have helped.
Mark Reckmeyer, a junior psychology major, said he learned of a TCU fraternity brother’s death from a car accident at the same time as two of his high school friends’ suicides in the summer of 2004. He said the suicides had a different kind of effect.
“There was a definite difference between the accidental death and the purposeful one,” Reckmeyer said.
Dr. Steven Bailley of Suicide and Mental Health Association International said that those affected by suicide often feel abandoned, guilty, ashamed and have many questions.
“In the case of suicide,” he said, “efforts to understand the many ‘Why?’ questions can be both time consuming and emotionally draining.”
Stress on college students
Caroline talked about being overwhelmed by school and losing motivation.
“Getting through the day was so hard,” she said. “I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like I could barely face the day. There was no order in my life – everything felt chaotic. It was hard for me to schedule my time.
“I couldn’t concentrate. It was hard for me to get through school. Sometimes I could barely finish my homework.”
Reckmeyer described the reasons why people at this age have difficulties.
“College-age students are dealing with more stress because at this point, everyone is changing, having relationships and experiencing excess drama,” he said.
Ceci Lang, a senior international marketing and Spanish major, said she has dealt with students struggling with suicidal thoughts as a resident assistant in Sherley Hall and now as the head RA in the Tom Brown-Pete Wright Residential Community.
“Suicidal thoughts are prevalent in college life, especially for a first-year student because coming to college is a dramatic change,” Lang said.
She said she has talked with students who were depressed because of difficulties fitting in, meeting new people, and missing home. Lang has also spoken with upperclassmen who were depressed about choosing the wrong major, finding a career and problems in their relationships.
Effect of Alcohol and Drugs
When Caroline was overwhelmed with intense negative feelings, she turned to alcohol to try and alleviate the pain.
“Usually, I would just drink to get drunk, attempting to drown the pain,” she said. “Drinking was a way for me to escape.”
The problem with this thinking, Caroline said, is that alcohol is a depressant and only adds to the problem.
Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Reckmeyer said one of his friends was dealing with family problems, school problems and the breakup with a girlfriend. The friend consumed large amounts of alcohol one night, drove out to the countryside and hung himself.
“Nick was really mellow when he wasn’t drunk,” Reckmeyer said, “but when he started drinking, he always got more emotional.”
Kintigh said that alcohol and drugs can enhance thoughts of suicide. She said one important feature of a “safe plan” that she constructs with suicidal students involves either no use or safe use of alcohol and drugs.