The news spread like wildfire: there was a dead body on campus. For hours, students were scrambling for information. Who, how, when, why? Rumors were flying with misinformation and stories. The school was quick to email everyone with a vague description and a promise that as information came and was appropriate for the public, we would get it. It wasn’t until hours later that we knew it was a student and until hours after that we knew it was a suicide.
Almost six months later, our campus was hit again with the difficult and complicated news of the suicide of another student. Although he was not on school grounds at the time, the news of the death of anybody connected to the institution had the ability to rock the campus.
Needless to say, no one knew exactly what to do when either student died, but each death sent a shockwave through campus, sparking a range of reactions from both those who did and those who did not know the two men. The losses were felt in a complicated mess of ways. Those who knew them were grieving, which I expected to happen, but what surprised me the most was the support, love, and loss felt by those who did not know either student. There was an almost tangible shift on campus. It was as if when students on campus were grieving and hurting, that pain was absorbed and felt by hundreds of others. I had never seen loss in a community quite like this.
In addition to those grieving, the deaths also sparked difficult feelings, memories, and experiences for many of those on campus who were survivors of suicide attempts, who had struggled with their mental health, or who had survived the death of a loved one. Although it is undoubtedly important to help those who are grieving, it can also be absorbing. We can end up neglecting the other issues that linger after someone takes their life. Those who struggle, no matter the reason, deserve support and love, too.
In watching and supporting the community, I learned that the most important things to handling the losses included ignoring rumors, watching out for friends who were visibly struggling and for friends who weren’t open about their struggling (pain and mental health issues can manifest in countless ways, so watching out for a friend who may be acting differently can be a key indicator), and utilizing campus resources.
My college was quick to offer a wide variety of resources. With the news of each death, but particularly the death that happened on campus, a good job was done of recognizing the range of difficulties that students could experience. They offered rides to the funeral, a service on campus, support from the office of Religious and Spiritual Life, academic support via student affairs, on-call staff in the office of student affairs, appointments with the counseling center, and a round-the-clock confidential phone service through the counseling center.
The support of our institution was instrumental in helping our campus heal. While there were not many reminders past the initial week or two following the deaths that resources were available, there were countless faculty and staff who were there for students however they could be helpful. Through college, there has been an emphasis made by the administration and the various departments to work to ensure that the institution is more than just a home of academics, that it is a community. This means we celebrate together, support one another, and unfortunately, occasionally have to mourn together. This upsetting reality is made more manageable by knowing that your reactions are valid and that those around you, whether individual people or organizations, are there to help you through it.