Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve had a close friend or loved one who was depressed. You may have even experienced depression yourself. In both cases, the right support system could mean the difference between life and death. But what happens when that support system appears to be in place and the situation still takes a turn for the worst?
That’s exactly what’s been happening at colleges across the country with a stunning consistency. And, sadly, suicide on college campuses is nothing new. In fact, suicidal thoughts and attempts are higher among adults aged 18-25 than among adults over the age of 25. There are more than 1,000 suicides on college campuses every year and lifetime thoughts of suicide occur to 18 percent of undergraduates.
That leaves a burning question: Why?
Well, there is no black and white answer when it comes to suicide and depression. “I think one of the things we struggle against in the world of suicide prevention,” says Christine Moutier, chief medical officer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “is that we’re always trying to explain it. We’re always asking, ‘Why? How could someone do this?’ But there’s not one explanation.”
In many cases – like Madison Holleran’s – the victim is an overachiever, often surrounded by friends and family, who doesn’t appear depressed on the outside. This is a person who’s been suffering for a long time, and there’s no one particular thing that pushes them over the edge. They never let on that they have a suicide plan – or even that anything is seriously wrong – until it’s too late.
Talking about depression and suicide in a high-stakes environment – like college – can be extremely intimidating. And if you’re struggling to make friends, keep your G.P.A. up, find an internship, keep a job… well, you get the picture. College is stressful as hell. It’s easy to see how addressing your mental health issues can take a backseat to balancing college life.
If you know someone who is struggling with depression, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Here are a few ways you can do that:
Understand that they may not want to talk about it: Many people with depression are ashamed they have it and/or won’t even acknowledge that something is wrong. Let them know you’re concerned, they have nothing to be ashamed about and that you’re there for support – but realize they may not open up with you right away, or at all. It takes a lot of patience to be part of a support system.
Take what they do say seriously: When your friend does open up, listen carefully to what they have to say. This may be the only time they give you clues as to what they’re really feeling inside. Don’t push them too much and don’t make judge. Instead, make it clear that this is an ongoing conversation you’re ready for whenever they decide to talk more.
Get professional help: If at any point you think your friend is at risk for suicide, don’t hesitate to get help fast. If it’s can emergency, dial 911. Otherwise, call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK so you can find out what resources are available in your area.
Have you or a loved one ever experienced depression? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.