Like the rest of the students across the College of William and Mary’s campus, my heart sank on Monday morning when I saw those four little words come up in my inbox: Notice to the Community. I feared the worst and, for the third time this year, I was right: another life lost to suicide. Of course when tragedy strikes a small community like ours, people are bound to ask, “Why?” Why would someone so talented, funny and outgoing take his own life? Why would suicide ever cross the mind of an individual with such a bright future? Unfortunately, I can’t answer these questions when it comes to the young man whose life was cut short this past weekend. What I can do is continue to share my experience in the hope that it will shed some light on one of the most serious issues that our campus has been forced to confront this year. So here it goes.
In January 2014, choosing to live was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I wish I could say that I made this choice after a big life change or some kind of spiritual awakening, but that wouldn’t be the truth. In reality, I had spent the past week alone in my apartment, writing goodbye letters to the people I was closest to — my family, friends and teammates. When I first started writing, I thought the letters would give me a sense of closure and serve as an explanation for why I was leaving the world at just 20 years old. I was sure that if I could put what I was feeling into words, everyone would see that my choice made sense.
The days dragged by slowly and as I thought of more people who would be affected by my decision, I wrote more letters. Each of them was different from the rest and crafted with the utmost love and care. Yet, at the end of the week, the letters all had one thing in common: they weren’t done. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t finish a single one. The problem wasn’t that I had run out of things to say — it was that none of my arguments sounded very logical when I read this stack of letters back to myself. That’s when I realized that depression lies.
The first lie that depression tells you is that no one else could possibly understand what you’re going through. This could not be further from the truth, as Active Minds estimates that one in four adults live with a diagnosable mental health disorder. In fact, almost a third of all college students reported feeling so depressed that they had trouble functioning. Nearly half of these same students had also felt like things were hopeless at some point. And yet, it’s easy to feel like no one can relate. People love to talk about their clubs, sports, sororities and fraternities, but no one wants to admit that they are struggling when no one’s around. Depression feeds off this silence and convinces you that you must be the only one.
The second lie depression tells you is that everything is your fault. You wonder what you’ve done wrong and depression fires back at you with a list of every insecurity you’ve ever worried about and every mistake you’ve ever made. It runs through the back of your mind and clouds your vision until the only thing you can picture is an eternity of feeling like you don’t measure up. When you force yourself to glance at the people around you, you think, “Well this isn’t fair.” Everyone else looks like they’re moving forward effortlessly. “But it is fair,” depression insists, “You’ve gotten yourself into this mess and now you’re stuck, all by yourself.”
The stronger depression gets, the more it shapes your whole world. It has the unmatched ability to spin any situation so it seems as if nothing you do will help. Finally, in the darkest of times, depression can convince you that you are all out of options, that there is no point living this overwhelming life. What depression doesn’t tell you is that there are always, always other paths you can take to turn things around. They may not be the paths you originally envisioned yourself on, but they are infinitely better than the alternative — a guaranteed dead end. Depression is also known for overshadowing all the resources you have available to you. Even if the first one you try doesn’t work, there are countless others to try that may make a world of difference.
So if you get anything out of this, let it be that depression is full of it. No one on our campus should be left to feel alone, at fault, or out of options when there are so many ways for things to get better. What we have to address now is the silence surrounding mental health that feeds into the stigma of asking for help and the possibility that we do not have adequate resources to meet everyone’s needs. Unfortunately, our school is not the only one facing this enormous problem.
As we struggle to move forward as One Tribe, let’s also strive to keep up this conversation in a positive and productive way — I think we can all agree that three suicides in a year is three too many.
Email Carleigh Wrobel at firstname.lastname@example.org.