Suicide at University and Why World Suicide Prevention Day Feels Hollow

Photo Credit Andy Nystrom
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Content Warning: Suicide

World Suicide Prevention Day took place in September, and it made me realize that my university has done nothing to meaningfully and publicly address an incredibly tragic suicide that occurred on campus last autumn, one week prior to reading week in 2018. 

I was one of several students who happened to pass by the scene of the death immediately after it happened, and, as someone who deals with regular suicidal ideations, it was rattling. 

Following the incident, I had just one single professor mention it in class and make room for us to air our feelings and stresses. With tears in my eyes, I simply thanked him for being willing to even address it. The rest of my professors—and several of my friend’s professors as well—doubled or tripled our workloads for the upcoming reading week without hesitation. C’est la university, I guess.

As the past year has unfolded, the most direct action anyone on campus took to memorialize this student and acknowledge mental health struggles in our institution was to hang a hand-painted sign at the death site that read “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” Which I’m sure had fine intentions, but made my stomach churn when I passed it everyday on my way to class for the rest of the year. 

Suicidal ideations, tendencies, et cetera, sure make you feel alone and are often cultivated in isolation. Screaming “You are not alone!!!” to every mentally-ill person you know does jack shit to comfort an individual and/or address the systemic problems creating the boiling pots for suicide. Institutions directly responsible—at least, partially so—for instances of suicide should, at minimum, allow their surrounding community to take a break and to meaningfully memorialize suicide’s victims. 

On World Suicide Prevention Day, almost one year after the death, I walked through the top floor of the library for the first time since the incident. As I settled at a desk, I went to crack a window for respiratory relief from the humidity and perfume hanging heavy in the air. As I struggled to pop the latches on the window, I took a closer look to see screws blocking the latches from sliding open. 

“I don’t think they open anymore,” a nearby student, noticing my confusion, called to me. I released my grip from the window’s latches. We both pursed our lips grimly before returning focus back to our computer screens.

Today, almost one year later, the only memorial for the boy who died by suicide on my campus are dozens of 3/4” long screws blocking shut every window on the top floor of the campus library.