Suicide prevention: know risk factors, warning signs

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When Megan Rondini transferred to SMU in the Spring 2016 semester she moved in with two SMU juniors. A.A and J.F., who asked that they only be identified by their initials, quickly realized their new roommate wasn’t happy.

“She had talked to us about how she was depressed and all the medicine she was on so we knew that she wasn’t doing great,” A.A. said. “She didn’t feel like she fit in here and I don’t think she had a lot of people reach out to her other than me and J.F.”

About a month after transferring to SMU, on Feb. 26, Rondini was found in her bedroom by her roommates. She had committed suicide.

There have been at least two student suicides at SMU in 2016 according to emails, reporting, and student accounts. However, it can be difficult to get an accurate account because of privacy laws. The SMU police and counseling services won’t release names, and students are reluctant to talk about suicide. If a student dies on campus, the administration may send an email, but it usually doesn’t include the cause of death.

The morning of Sept. 29, SMU woke up to breaking news about a body being found in the diving pool at SMU Barr Pool. It was later confirmed to be the body of Jaein “Jamie” Shim, a senior from South Korea who was a President’s Scholar and a member of the Honors Program.

“It was so sad to hear of a fellow SMU student taking his life,” said junior Haley Duncan. “I hope it serves as a wakeup call that something has to change.”

Suicide is the number two leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control. College students make up the largest section of that demographic and according to the American College Health Association 2015 assessment two-thirds of students who are struggling with mental health issues never seek treatment. Skip Simpson, a suicide malpractice lawyer in Frisco, said the many stressors involved with college life can lead to severe mental health issues.

“Trying to navigate life by yourself you know dealing with dating, dealing with attempted rapes, or rapes, dealing with all kinds of things that go on on a school campus and all those kinds of things can cause mental health issues in college kids and can be risk factors for suicide.” said Simpson.

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Graphics courtesy of USA Today

The first step schools should take is to make students aware of the resources available to them on campus according to Simpson. SMU’s Counseling Services at the Bob Smith Health Center offers free, confidential counseling for any SMU students. Its website shows the full list of counseling options and resources including an online mental health screening.

Active Minds is an on-campus organization that works to destigmatize mental health issues on college campus and to promote help-seeking from students struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression. Active Minds SMU President, sophomore Gianna Rizzo, said a big step towards removing the stigma behind mental health issues is making students and faculty aware of how common mental health issues are in college students.

“The reality of it is that 25 percent of college students suffer from some kind of mental illness and that’s only the people that are diagnosable,” said Rizzo, a biology major. “There are a lot of people who suffer from just symptoms of a mental illness but not something that’s diagnosable quite yet. Basically if you don’t have some kind of mental health issue you know somebody who does.”

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Graphics courtesy of USA Today

Rizzo also pointed out the resources outside of the Health Center. Places like the Chaplain’s Office, The Women’s and LGBT Center, and the Multicultural Office all offer support for struggling students.

“I feel like Megan really didn’t feel like she had an outlet so I think that it would be a big improvement,” A.A. said. “I feel like there could definitely be a way to let every student know that there is an option to go talk to someone and for people who are affected after too.”

Simpson agrees that silence can be deadly when dealing with a suicide risk.

“Be really sympathetic with the person,” Simpson said. “Tell them that they’ll help them get to a counselor and work this out together you know this is not an unusual issue.”

It can be hard to reach out to a friend who you think might be struggling, but J.F. urges people in a similar situation to not make the same mistake they did.

“My advice to anyone would be to act sooner than we did,” said J.F. “We knew she was depressed but we tried to help by including her and hanging out with her but what she really needed was professional help.”

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Graphics courtesy of USA Today

The best way to combat mental health issues is to remember to reach out to one another, Rizzo said.

“I want to promote kindness because that is just one of the biggest weapons we have against mental health issues and suicide,” she said. “It’s so important because you don’t know what people are dealing with.”

Breaking down the stigmas surrounding mental health issues and becoming comfortable with talking about issues like suicide is crucial to ending student suicides, according to Simpson.

“If we can get students at that age and faculty to understand these issues it will get the students off on the right course,” Simpson said. “So not only will they have a degree but they’ll also be better informed at how to help themselves and help others as they go through life.”

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Graphics courtesy of USA Today
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