Opinion | How to Reduce Suicides in College

If the college had respected its obligations to Graham Burton, an adult man, and acted more aggressively to get him appropriate care, he might still be alive.

ANDREA BENZACAR, NEW YORK

To the Editor:

Thank you so much for this article. My thoughts go out to the family.

When my daughter was a college freshman, she called me, in the dead of winter, from the dugout on the baseball field. She was severely despondent and alone. She felt hopeless. After I got off the phone with her, I called the college and tried to get someone to go to her, to offer support and counsel. The person I spoke to refused, stating that my daughter was over 18 and had to ask for the help herself. As anyone who has suffered from severe depression knows, it is often impossible to make that leap alone.

After contacting several college personnel in various departments, including the health center, I finally gave up and drove the 350 miles to her. Thank goodness all ended well. But I shudder to think what might have been.

K.R., NEW YORK

The writer’s full name is being withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy.

To the Editor:

The nightmarish stories of college students who commit suicide elicit basic questions about what steps colleges can take to avert such terrible outcomes. Federal laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act need revision to make it easier for college advisers and faculty to contact families when students are failing and/or showing signs of distress.

Faculty, staff and students need to be educated about diseases like depression, bipolar disorder and substance use disorder, which are causally related to outcomes like death from suicide.

While schools cannot become mental health facilities, they need to have sufficient resources to intervene directly in crises like the ones depicted all too frequently in the media.

The good news is that for every story that ends in tragedy, there are thousands of others that result in recovery, thanks to the tireless work of engaged college personnel, peer support groups, mental health clinicians and families coming together on behalf of those stricken with mental health challenges.

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