Imagine yourself as a high school student preparing to go off to college or university. Go one step further and put yourself in the shoes of that student, working your brain to the max, crawling through the mound of studies and social events placed in front of you. Now project further, and think what it would be like to be the parent of one of those students.
To all of those scenarios, add this factor: the student in question has a history of depression, anti-social behaviour, and a tendency towards suicide.
In recent years, suicide potential has been on the agenda of higher-education facilities. Back in 2000, a 19-year-old college sophomore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a top-ranking American university, committed suicide by setting herself on fire in her dorm room. Her parents sued the university for wrongful death, and eventually settled out of court. But the death, and the subsequent allegations, created a high-profile case that caused many universities to take stock.
Researchers found that suicide ranks as the second highest cause of death of college students in the United States, claiming approximately 1,100 lives each year. When I was in university, I remember hearing about a student who’d killed himself close to the end of the year. The university awarded his roommate a 4.0 average, without writing any exams, as a consolation for the trauma he’d endured.
Today, some institutes of higher learning are taking a harsher approach. In February 2005, a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., overdosed on antidepressants, woke up in the university’s hospital, only to be told by a school therapist that he was forbidden from entering his dorm.
“Suicidal behaviour not only impacts the student, but the environment around him,” rightly stated a GW university spokeswoman. But kicking a student out (in other words, abandonment and rejection) for attempting suicide is hardly a decent or responsible way to treat someone with serious psychological problems. As one father was quoted, “That’s not comforting for a parent when you’re sending your kids off to school.”
In 2004, another student checked himself into his university’s hospital with suicidal thoughts after he witnessed a friend jump to his death from their dorm. Instead of being commended for recognizing his vulnerability, and helped, the university suspended him.
Colleges and universities certainly need to protect themselves, as businesses, from unnecessary litigations; but at what cost to their students?
As a two-time university graduate, and a mother, I prefer the strategy created by the University of Illinois, and implemented at other institutions across the country: students who threaten or attempt suicide can stay on campus as long as they participate in regular counselling sessions. By doing so, the schools attempt to help troubled students, rather than dump them.
Deciding where to send your child to school can be challenging, but this is one area I’ll explore when the time comes. My child’s safety is paramount, no matter where he may be.