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Letters to the editor: One girl’s story: dealing with suicide at Brandeis

Published: March 18, 2011
Section: Editorials


I did not know Kat Sommers but news of her suicide struck a familiar cord with me. There is a history of suicide in my family, from the aunt who committed suicide before I was born to my father’s cousin who killed himself when I was in ninth grade. Whenever someone dies like this I can’t help but think “it could have been me”—for I have come dangerously close to being in Kat’s shoes many times.

During freshman year, my roommate had to take my meds away from me; had she not been in the room, I would have overdosed on my prescriptions. During sophomore year I had a single, and I spent many nights thinking about how, if I killed myself in my room, no one would even notice—I didn’t have close friends who would get worried if they didn’t see me for a couple days, and I imagine no flag would have been raised until professors got concerned that I was missing their classes. Last year while I was abroad I thought about how incredibly stupid it was to put someone with depression up on the seventh floor with no screens on the windows. Luckily I never made anything out of it.

I’ve been through the system. Freshman year I was sent to the Newton-Wellesley psych ward—not because I was actively considering suicide but because I called the counseling center on a weekend and at one point mentioned that I didn’t care if I lived or I died—which frankly taught me only to avoid telling people about anything remotely suicidal so I wouldn’t be sent back there. Since then I’ve had appointments at Mailman and I’ve been put on antidepressants. My first psychologist assumed all my friends were gay because I was; another—or maybe the same one—blamed all my issues on my family’s frequent moves. The one really good psychologist I saw at Mailman—the one who respected my own ideas and theories and helped set me up for neuropsychological testing—left Brandeis while I was abroad, and now I go only because as my mental illness gets in the way of my academics, knowing that I’m “seeing someone” comforts my concerned professors.

Last week’s article in The Hoot mentioned that “the PCC holds urgent care walk-in hours twice per day,” but I have never seen any evidence of them. Last October I was falling apart, missing class and work and having nightmares and episodes of massive panic. I finally brought myself down to Mailman—which I had been avoiding because my good therapist was gone and I hadn’t had much luck before her—because I needed help right then, but all I got was a 20-minute intake appointment and “we hope to find you someone soon.”

When I told them it was urgent, the only response was “Do you need to go to the hospital?” Given my previous time there of course the answer was no, and I was left without any immediate help. If there were urgent care walk-in hours, why were they not mentioned to me then? Why is there no mention of them on the PCC website?

I do not mean to blame my troubles entirely on the PCC, but I cannot say that they have particularly helped me, either. Little things have kept me alive—my roommate that first year, my girlfriend’s love and support now, the knowledge that the friend who cosigned my student loan would be left in debt, and the fact that I know of no method that would definitely, 100 percent kill me.

When your first experience at a place is negative, you won’t want to go back and try again. When you say you need help and are told your options are to go to the hospital or wait an untold amount of time, you won’t go back next time you’re in a crisis and need help right away. There’s a trust issue here: you cannot trust that you will be seen by someone who is supportive or understands (particularly with queer students), and you cannot trust that you can see someone when you are truly in need. And for some with out-of-state insurance, Mailman is the only shot they have. My own insurance won’t cover a psychologist any closer than Cambridge or a psychiatrist any closer than Westborough; if I can’t count on services available on campus, I’m stuck.

I guess what I’m trying to do here is show why I’m not entirely surprised that someone could commit suicide on the Brandeis campus. I’m not saying that students should be babysat, but there are holes in the system. Who do you turn to if you don’t have close friends and you can’t count on the counseling center?

– An anonymous student