Content warning: This article discusses depression and suicide. Please refer to the end of the article for resources on campus.
Suicide prevention advocacy is too often conducted through giant posters with flamboyant colors. They scream at passing students: “You matter,” “You are not alone” and “Never give up,” reminding them that suicide is not a necessary option. Too often, schools wait for tragedy before they act. These sorts of signs appear when schools are confronted with an actual suicide.
To pre-empt this delayed response, Georgetown University should focus on pre-emptive measures by following in the increasingly aware footsteps of the mainstream media. An outburst of interest in suicide and mental health over the last year, found mainly in television and music, has begun changing cultural norms and fostering improvements to poorly supported suicide prevention programs. However, Georgetown has not yet taken sufficient action to support suicide prevention efforts.
On March 31, 2017, Netflix released the series “13 Reasons Why,” based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name. Critics said the show glorified suicide and portrayed it as an attractive solution to life’s problems. For example, critics believed some scenes should have been censored, such as one particularly graphic scene in which the main character slits her wrists and bleeds out in a bathtub.
Twitter search statistics reveal that “13 Reasons” was the most-tweeted-about show of 2017. Google-related searches on suicide increased by 19 percent after the show first aired. The Netflix series guided an open dialogue with young people about the previously taboo subject of suicide.
The show prompted presentations in high schools across the world titled “13 Reasons Why Not,” including slides titled, “You Belong,” “You are Worthy” and “These Storms Will Help You Grow Stronger.” Teachers began lecturing their students on mental health, and parents began discussing the topic of suicide with their children. My own teachers talked openly about experiences with suicide and my parents expressed how much I mean to them. The show did the public a service by encouraging a conversation previously relegated to families and survivors who wrestled with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts themselves.
Less than a month after “13 Reasons” was released, Logic, an American rapper and songwriter, released “1-800-273-8255,” a song directing callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service that allows callers to speak to people well-equipped to give “confidential emotional support.” The day after the song’s release, the number of calls to the line increased by 27 percent, according to the NSPL. Since then, the baseline number of calls to the center has increased.
Entertainment media like “13 Reasons Why” and “1-800-273-8255” have created an environment for healthy, pre-emptive conversations about suicide and mental health. Georgetown is now well-poised to pursue this necessary course of action by incorporating access to essential resources into daily life and properly preparing students to help address the mental health concerns of their classmates.
In the last year, high schools and universities have taken measures to ensure that their students are in healthier states of mind and have easier access to mental health resources. A number of Arizona high schools have put the NSPL phone number on the back of their student identification cards. GOCards list Counseling and Psychiatric Services’ phone number, along with other important health resources, but the NSPL phone number should be added for additional expert support.
Ohio State University students are taught to recognize signs of suicide during their new student orientation, a program similar to our own NSO at Georgetown. However, our own NSO does not go into nearly enough depth. A study showed that two-thirds of students do not contact mental health professionals in times of distress, but instead talk to their classmates and friends.
Georgetown must train students to identify signs of suicide to properly protect everyone in the community. Georgetown should immediately adopt Arizona’s and OSU’s measures as part of a much larger, more powerful movement.
This movement does not demand massive change to be successful. Since arriving on the Hilltop, my roommate and I have seen very little outreach from CAPS other than a few statements released on its website. CAPS needs to be more pre-emptive by promoting its various programs all around campus by tabling, putting up flyers and sending out more than the occasional email.
Further, students must be trained to recognize mental health problems, just as we are taught to recognize situations of potential sexual violence or misconduct. Such a program might be costly to the university, but surely a life is worth more. CAPS is a useful service but must be complemented by a training program conducted by either CAPS staff or a new student organization similar to Sexual Assault Peer Educators. Freshmen groaning about more training should be the least of our worries; their ability to stop a friend from committing suicide is worth all the complaining in the world.
Popular culture has made strides to bring suicide back into the spotlight. We must not allow Netflix’s and Logic’s work go to waste. We — students and teachers alike — need to keep talking about suicide. If we build on the recent media fascination with suicide, important measures can be implemented to prevent suicide and raise awareness for mental health.
To access mental health resources, reach out to Counseling and Psychiatric Services at 202-687-6985, or for after-hours emergencies, call 202-444-7243 and ask to speak to the on-call clinician. You can also reach out to Health Education Services at 202-687-8949. Both of these resources are confidential.
Jordan Peck is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business.