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Addressing Mental Illness: Response to Recent Suicides in College

Mental illness is the elephant in the room. It’s the reason some people fail to get out of bed every morning, turn to alcohol and drugs for relief, suffer from panic attacks, and experience an endless list of other issues. It’s the obvious root of so many people’s problems, yet the world refuses to acknowledge it. So that means over 43 million Americans continue to suffer silently, who endure such hardships with little to no support. 

Without enough support provided to those who suffer, suicide often becomes the method to relieve the pain.

In the past year, three graduated students from my high school, Acton Boxborough Regional High School, committed suicide. Two graduated high school students, strangely enough, died on the same day just recently, which shook my town even more. Our school has always been known as challenging, with classes that feel more suited to a college classroom. God forbid you get less than an A-, because the shame as a result is intolerable. With heavy homework, impossible tests, and still the implied expectation to receive an A in every course, it’s no wonder that students silently suffer.

After the suicides of Matthew Pierce and Sidharth Ramakrishnan, another graduated student from AB named Erica Taylor wrote an article called “The Illusion of Community.”  Here she expresses her disappointment and anger at our town for allowing students to get to the point of mental breakdowns and lowered self-esteem, without even being there for those silently suffering. As a good friend of Megan Durand, another former AB student who committed suicide, she expresses the pain of growing up in such a competitive environment, saying, “Because that is what Acton does to you. It drills into your head that if you’re not academically inclined or some kind of jock, you’re not as important. You’re not as good. You’re not as worthy.”

The article was spread to everyone in the AB community and was met with applause and anger. Some felt her article held so much truth, while others were angered at the lack of appreciation for those who did put so much effort into helping students at AB.

One of the comments on Erica’s article strikes a particular chord with many readers: “Acton-Boxborough does an excellent job at raising students, but not necessarily humans. It’s great at staying at the top academically, but has no problem letting a few kids slip through the cracks.” This statement goes for so many other communities across the U.S., where it feels like students are pushed into a factory and have to come out the other end with a perfect resume, or else they’ll get thrown out.

Mental illness evolves from all this pressure, and too many people don’t find the support they need in time—unfortunately turning to suicide as their only option. The National Center for Health Statistics discovered in a 2016 study that the suicide rate rose 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. In 1999, 29,199 people died from suicide, while 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014. 

Mental illness affects everyone, and sees no gender, race, sexual orientation, age, or size. The fact that we continue to see the numbers rise every year tells us one thing: we are not doing enough.

How can we solve this issue? I think the number one thing is that we have to be louder as a community to express our sadness and anger over the lack of action. This is one of the best ways to emphasize the urgency of the situation. There’s so much discrimination and stigma against mental illness that we need to overcome that barrier and enforce everyone to address it before we can work toegther. Will this action help in the end? It depends on whether actions are made. We need to begin somewhere, and more importantly, we need to learn to value every life—not just the lives of those who can succeed in a stress-induced environment. As a community, support and proactiveness will begin the process of healing those suffering. The loss of life should always be the priority for a community, and an incentive to take action.

 Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Anastasia Armstrong. English Major at UMass Amherst.
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