When most people think of college, suicide is not typically the first thought that comes to mind; instead, they relate college to a party atmosphere.
However, suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students according to a 2015 article in ‘The Maneater,’ the student newspaper of the University of Missouri, coming only after car accidents. Suicide is a higher cause of death among college students than even alcohol-related deaths, excluding driving under the influence.
The topic is an extremely important one at colleges and universities. Since September 2016, a comparatively high number of seven students committed suicide at Columbia University in New York, according to The New York Post.
In order to raise awareness for suicide, Counseling & Psychological Services, working alongside Campus Ministry and Fairfield University Student Association, has organized an initiative that will take place on Feb. 22 called “You’re Irreplaceable.” The initiative is a suicide awareness and prevention campaign.
“We want to heighten awareness not only of the issue but also of the resources,” said Director of Counseling & Psychological Services Susan Birge. “We want students to know that they can turn not only to counseling but also to Campus Ministry when they’re in dark places.”
Senior John Versaci feels like the University does a good job addressing the issue of suicide.
“RAs do counseling programs, the First Year Experience course teaches us about resources on campus and they always have stress-reliever events to help students who have certain needs,” said Versaci.
Birge explained that, as part of the initiative, there will be boards all over campus in places like the Barone Campus Center, the DiMenna-Nyselius Library and the Leslie C. Quick, Jr. Recreation Complex where members of the community can write reasons they have for living on sticky notes that they can then attach to the boards. This display is called “Reasons to Live.”
Additionally, there will be a 12:10 p.m. mass dedicated to those who struggle with depression and despair as well as those who have died from suicide.
There will also be a push for students, faculty and staff to wear stickers that say “Save a Life” on them to raise awareness. These stickers also include the phrase “suicidal thoughts or depression can happen to anyone” and advertise for Counseling & Psychological Services.
“I think college can be a time of significant stress that may lead to feeling overwhelmed, but there are many resources including Counseling & Psychological Services to utilize,” said Birge. “I think it’s important for students to understand that those feelings of despair do pass.”
Birge went on to explain that impulsivity is what is so dangerous to those feeling hopeless and helpless. She cited a 1978 study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley of 515 people who were stopped from committing suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971. The study found that 94 percent of those who attempted suicide never again attempted to take their lives afterwards.
Birge commented on the supportiveness of the Fairfield community when it comes to suicide.
“I think the students in our community take good care of one another,” commented Birge. “It’s not uncommon for a student to call counseling with concern for one of their friends.”
Birge also cited the professional resources for suicidal members of the Fairfield community.
“We have a counselor on call 24/7, so if you have a concern about a friend or even if you yourself are feeling suicidal, you can call Public Safety and Public Safety activates us right away,” Birge added.
Assistant Director of the Department of Public Safety John Ritchie spoke on DPS’s role in helping those who are entertaining suicidal thoughts.
“We are all required to be Emergency Medical Technicians and that program has a component of dealing with people in crisis,” said Ritchie. “Many of our staff members are also Crisis Intervention Trained officers, attending a week-long intensive program to help us recognize and defuse people in crisis. Our goal is to have all officers attend CIT.”
Junior Jade Joannou believes that the University’s resources for dealing with suicide are well advertized.
“I always see those counseling signs and definitely for freshmen with FYE they always recommended the counseling services,” said Joannou. “I think it’s pretty supported.”
However, Maggie Xie ‘20 believes that more can still be done.
“There’s a lot more about sexual assault than about anything else,” said Xie. “I’ve seen so many emails about that, but I don’t think I’ve seen enough emails about suicide prevention, so I think it’s nice that they’re having something like this.”
Birge touched upon why this initiative is so important and what it all comes down to.
“This is all about the value of a life,” Birge said. “There is nothing more important than the preciousness of life.”
I graduated from Fairfield in 2011 and was very impressed with the counseling resources at the school. A counselor mentioned that he would be there “in a heartbeat” for a student and he made good on that promise. I am completing a degree in mental health counseling and Pastoral Care at Fordham and hope to become a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Connecticut. My experience at Fairfield have played a major role in shaping my experiences for which I am forever grateful.