September 9, 2019

Even So, Choose Life (through despair and suicide may loom)

By Robert Musser, Ph.D.

For some gloom, despair, and agony are the companions of late. Yet, it’s a new academic year and hope is fired up. Many of us are enthused with the fire of devotion to new learning and hoped-for, meaningful careers. Even the woods seem aflame with color, and the time of harvest is at hand. Maybe the brightness and hope of the season makes that despair for some more apparent, more hopeless. For whatever reason, far too many people suffer from significant depression, from bipolar despair, and suicide. In Arkansas, among people in the 15 to 34-year-old age bracket (which includes the overwhelming majority of you, our UAMS students), suicide is the second leading cause of death. In addition, the overall suicide rate in Arkansas is slightly more than double that of the homicide rate.* Suicide is a significant public health issue for us as medical professionals and for us as stressed, driven, self-demanding individuals.

In the Student Success Center and among the staff of Student Wellness, we are concerned with your academic and personal well-being, and we would wish that no one of you despair to the point of considering suicide. Certainly we wish that you not engage in planning such an outcome, and even more that you not act toward that end. Knowing some of the common danger signs (indicators) is a first step:
• Mental health factors such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
• A person’s previous history including-
– The experience of childhood adversities.
– Previous experiences of suicidal behaviors (suicidal ideation in the past or previous suicide attempts).
– A family history of suicide.
• The experience of recent stressful events (especially when multiple stressors are present).
• Substance abuse behaviors.
• The absence of significant social support.

If you find yourself experiencing these kinds of symptoms, particularly if you are experiencing more than one or if your experience of even one symptom is intense and overwhelming, recognize the signs and take steps to seek out help. Student Wellness is an invaluable resource, available to UAMS students and spouses. Their services are also confidential and do not become a part of your official UAMS medical record. See the text boxes for contact information on this and other resources.

For some of us, the danger is not our own health, but that of friends, family, or colleagues. We may serve that role of significant social support for another. Pay attention and assist your struggling colleague.

Listen to,
encourage,
notice.

We are in this university together; we walk through this life together. As John Donne, the English poet, observed, “The death of any person diminishes me.” We are not islands unto ourselves, but each a part of the mainland. If you see fellow-students who are struggling, reach out and help them get the help they need. Suicide has been described as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Without making light of the darknesses that some of us face, a new, better dawn can lie ahead. Let us help ourselves, and let us help each other. I have found meaningful the reminder from the song by REM,

“Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on”

“Everybody Hurts” by Bill Berry, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Michael Mills, Warner/Chappell Music, inc., on the REM album Automatic for the People, https://www.remhq.com/music/automatic-for-the-people/.

 

* See the “Suicide Prevention” webpage at the Arkansas Department of Health, https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/suicide-prevention.