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On May 6, 2012, I stood inside of my seventh grade classroom, hyperventilating in front of the window after my teacher announced the suicide of a fellow classmate. I was only twelve years old, too young to understand how a person’s mental health could fall into a place that dark.
Today, I understand the effectiveness of comprehensive attention towards mental health and how crucial it is that our school systems integrate it into their curriculums. In a very unfortunate circumstance, I experienced firsthand what feeling lost, confused, and depressed can do to someone. Of course, no one should ever have to go through something such as the loss of a classmate in order to understand the importance of taking care of oneself and those around you.
Even more unsettling is that adolescents between the ages of 15-24 are at the highest risk of attempting to commit suicide, making college students the most susceptible. CU Boulder provides an extensive list of resources on their website, but based off of personal experience, does little to reach out to students when a tragedy actually occurs.
This September, a 21-year-old student was found dead in his home at Bear Creek Apartments. The student’s cause of death was confirmed as suicide. Following that tragedy was the death of a 20-year-old CU student who shot himself in the head in an apparent suicide in front of a Boulder police deputy and an open space ranger earlier in April.
Following the incidents, the university failed to reach out to students about the importance of staying in touch with your own mental health or the available resources on campus that can be helpful in times of grief.
Following up about any tragedy or crisis that occurs with a fellow student is crucial for maintaining a connection between the administration and the student body. It lets us know that we are cared for, and valued as a part of the CU community, not just assets and revenue providers. When an incident is brushed aside, either out of fear of poor public perception or other reasons, students lose faith in the university’s willingness to support and protect them. In the case of CU, the university’s decision to not say anything has the same impact as if they did.
It may also come as a shock to you that many universities are not required to report the suicide of a student, however, a failure to publicly address the issue is a failure for the university to maintain a standard of safety amongst its students. The U.S. Education Department is partly to blame, as they only ask for data on students’ mental health, but nothing specific to suicides. Several other factors may also discourage a school from reporting suicides, most involving the fact that these statistics could damage their reputation. No school wants to be known for its suicide rate.
Information regarding suicides among students at a university should be accessible to the public, especially in an era when mental health is becoming more of a priority. Every school has a stack of pamphlets that sit at various admissions desks, beaming with information about how incredible they are. The reputation of that school constantly works to match exactly what that pamphlet shows.
It may provide information about how high its graduation rate is, but it definitely won’t provide how high its suicide rate is. That is not to say that universities should advertise suicide statistics, but an acknowledgment of the problem should be a standard, as suicide becomes a growing issue in the United States.
An investigation done by the Associated Press found that CU, along with other large public universities, does not track suicides amongst its students.
Perhaps it is because dealing with a crisis as serious as suicide on a large campus can be overbearing and problematic in terms of what the “right” thing to do is. However, a university should always reach out to its students immediately following a traumatic event to remind them that there are available resources that they can use if they feel unsafe, troubled, or just need to talk.
Wardenburg Health Center offers six free counseling sessions a semester for students but does not take private insurance for therapy, so a student must go off campus if they wish to seek additional treatment. Although that option is not all that much better, as it is difficult to find practitioners who will take insurance. This makes lower income students even more vulnerable to mental health pitfalls. Students have also expressed complaints about the long wait times in between sessions, rendering the treatment almost useless.
The fact of the matter is that a student’s well-being should not be sacrificed for fear of bad publicity or reputation. There is no easy way to address mental health, and the conversation surrounding it is still in its early stages. It can be understood, however, that silence regarding this issue on college campuses hinders their ability to claim themselves as progressive, and CU is no exception. As a predominantly liberal and inclusive campus, the University of Colorado Boulder could do much better when it comes to supporting mental health.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Staff Writer Savannah Mather at firstname.lastname@example.org.