Speaking Out About Suicide Prevention
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“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
The opening line of Alice Walker’s seminal text, The Color Purple, is a haunting illustration of how issues of abuse, depression, and mental illness are generally treated in the African-American community. Upon hearing of the apparent suicide of For Brown Girls founder, Karyn Washington, I was both hurt and troubled. I thought to myself, “she could have easily been on of my students.” Washington was well on her way to building a formidable legacy of self-love and female empowerment through her website. From the outside looking in, the world was at her fingertips; and yet, beneath the surface, there was a brown girl hurting.
There is a misconception that young people have a “worry-free” existence. When young people are hurting emotionally, and socially, we are quickly dismissive of their cries for help. Contrary to popular belief, college students are among the most vulnerable populations for anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation. Every single year I watch bright, intelligent students, full of promise succumb to forces beyond the classroom: financial struggles, abusive relationships, risky behaviors, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and homelessness. I’ve learned to look for the signs of distress and listen to EVERYTHING that is said in the classroom. Knowing the warning signs and being willing to speak up can help save students like Washington, and get them the support and care they need. Here are some things to keep in mind:
1) Prolonged Absence/Isolation – I tell my students every semester, on the first day of class, “If I don’t hear from you, I’m coming to look for you.” They usually think I’m joking until I pop up at their lunch table in the cafeteria or make a beeline toward them in the grocery store. I do this to let students know that they are noticed … that someone will miss them if they’re gone. If a friend drops out of sight for a while, reach out to her or check in with her. It’s not about getting in her business, but letting her know you care.
2) Troubling Social Media Posts: We all have bad days and sometimes it seems like the easiest way to vent our frustration is to take it out on social media. If your friend posts something that reflects excessive anger, hopelessness, or despair, don’t take it lightly. This can be a sign of a larger issue. Sending a simple message such as, “I saw your post. Is everything okay?” can be the spark he needs to seek help or get some things off his chest.
3) Don’t Try to Be a Hero: One of the first things I learned as a college professor is that we don’t talk to parents. In fact, we can’t. The federal law FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) prohibits us from discussing students’ grades, financial aid, or personal conduct with their parents. However, most colleges have a crisis management or prevention team where faculty, staff, and students can report any behavior that could be potentially harmful. Unless you are a licensed/trained professional, don’t try to tackle someone else’s crisis on your own. Make your concerns known to a responsible staff member who can investigate further.
4) Don’t Judge: Most of us don’t wear our problems on our sleeves. In fact, many of us have become pretty good at masking them. Struggling with feelings of hopelessness, sadness, low self-esteem, or hurt is nothing to be ashamed of. Pain doesn’t make us weak. It makes us real. We all feel it. As such, be mindful not to condemn or stigmatize people who struggle in these areas. Words can be more hurtful than sticks and stones.
As the semester winds to a close, and finals week quickly approaches, students are feeling the pressure more than ever. Poor grades/performance can result in the loss of scholarship, financial aid, good academic standing, internships, parental support, and more. It’s natural to feel anxious. But if the pressure becomes overwhelming, talk to a college counselor. Many of them are licensed professionals who can help with much more than choosing classes.
About Dr. Shante Bishop
Getting TO college is one thing; Getting THROUGH college is quite another. That’s why Dr. Shante’ Bishop offers strategic advice on being successful both in and out of the classroom. From catalogs to cap and gown, Professor Bishop shares what it takes to ‘Stomp the Yard” with confidence and clarity! You can follow Dr. Bishop on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.