A few months ago, I was hanging out with one of my best friends at my apartment. I hadn’t seen her in a while, so we were just catching up on each other’s lives over a pitcher of sangria. She had just gone through a pretty bad breakup, but we were joking around about it (i.e. verbally bashing every aspect about the bastard while stalking his Facebook). In between LOLs, she got up to use the bathroom.
A few minutes too long went by so I went to check on her. “You takin’ a shit in there?” I jokingly called through the closed bathroom door. No answer. I twisted the knob, and there she was, sprawled out on the floor, two empty prescription pill bottles lying beside her. I dropped to my knees and grabbed her by her shoulders. She came to for a second then went back out as I fruitlessly tried to force her to vomit. I don’t even remember my phone call with 9-1-1. Partially because we’d been drinking, partially out of pure unadulterated terror, the kind of fear that makes you lose all your senses and turns everything white. My best friend is still alive today, but only because the moment she chose to attempt suicide we just happened to be together. I don’t think about what would have happened if she had been alone.
Suicide is a hot media topic these days. A new month means a new story of a “bright, young scholar who had everything going for them” ending their own life being plastered across every major news platform. These kids are smart and promising future leaders-gone, in an instant.
But suicide is not just something that happens to some one else’s family, or someone elses friend anymore, like I had thought it was.
Suicide is your 20-year-old best friend. She’s tall and thin and pretty and comes from a wealthy family. She excels in her classes, and has a job and friends who love her.
Suicide is the guy who sits next to you in class. He’s the quarterback of the football team and has a wonderful girlfriend.
Suicide has been around for a long time, but keeps getting younger. At first he was middle aged, then a young adult, now teenaged.
Suicide is poor, and middle class, and a millionaire, too.
Suicide is black and white and yellow and brown.
Suicide is gay and straight and bi and trans.
Suicide is an athlete, a sorority girl, a chess pro, a guitar player, a math major, a creative writer, a son, a daughter, a sister, brother.
Suicide is. And that’s the problem.
Our culture demonizes mental health issues like depression to the point that people feel like they need to keep it all bottled up inside until they can’t take it anymore, and that’s a large part of the reason that suicide is becoming so prominant. What if this was the way we treated physical illnesses, too? If you had a broken leg and had to hide it every day, and go about your business like you weren’t hurting at all, seeking no treatment, don’t you think that would leave you feeling…suicidal? The news sensationalizes the stories of people like Madison Holleran, a UPenn freshman who jumped to her death off a parking garage. How could she do this? She had everything to live for. She was a bright, young, gorgeous girl, and a star athlete, too. And just as if she had been afflicted with a broken leg, those positive attributes would have done nothing to assuage the pain.
I think there’s a reason suicide is infiltrating colleges at such an alarming rate (Yes, alarming, I go to NYU, where suicide is so common that special barricades have been installed in our library to prevent students from jumping to their deaths in the middle of writing a paper.) Stress levels are at an all time high, especially for college kids. We are not only told that we must accomplish whatever the task at hand may be, but that we must do it better than every one else as well or…I don’t know, some type of consequence will happen, you’ll never get a job, your parents will stop loving you, and you’ll probably develop leprosy and gangrene as well. And as in Madison’s case, “having it all” was probably what lead her to eventually commit suicide. When you’re an extremely promising person, people set some high standards for you, yourself included. Failing to reach those standard (i.e. falling below a certain GPA) can be devastating. This same reasoning probably played a part in all of the suicides that took place in the NYU library. School is all too often the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I don’t know where the idea that the importance of maintaining a 4.0 could surpass the importance of being alive came from, but we need to work on that pronto, and stop shaming those with mental health problems into silence so we can move from our era of ‘suicide is’ to an era of ‘suicide is not’.
It’s never too late to get help.