An Abstract Paper On Campus Suicides

I found the information in the following abstract relevant as it confirms my view and that of other parents and readers of my blog, that Universities can, need and must to do more, to prevent suicide amongst their students.
In fact, let me shout this as loud and as clear as this blog will allow:
From Administrators to Professors, EVERYONE working on a college campus NEEDS to be ENGAGED with the STUDENTS!!!!!
I am AMAZED -livid, actually- that since his death, I have not heard from ANY of Andrew’s professors, or from the Dean of his college; NYU’s college of arts and science.
That’s not entirely true actually, for we did get a standard, unsigned Happy Holiday card from the Dean of Andrew’ college. I sent it right back and inside, with a red pen, I wrote something like: in case you forgot, or haven’t noticed, my son died in November. I really thought that I would get a personal note with an apology and a message of sympathy and condolence. But no, nothing, niente, rien; N A D A !

Ann MacLean Massie
Washington and Lee University – School of Law

Marquette Law Review, Vol. 91, Spring 2008
Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2007-19

“Elizabeth Shin’s self-immolation in her dormitory room at MIT in April 2000 was a shocking and visible reminder to the world of a recurrent problem: why do more than 1,000 of our most promising young people on campuses throughout the nation choose to end their lives each year? Most startling to parents and others who loved these young people is the discovery that very often, campus administrators, professors, and other personnel were well aware that these students were seriously suicidal: previous attempts, serious threats, and the pleas of friends for intervention are frequent clues. Yet when parents ask why they were not notified that their son or daughter was in serious emotional or psychological trouble, college administrators are likely to cite privacy laws and the adulthood age of 18 as reasons for not engaging outside family members. On the other hand, campuses sometimes react to suicidal suggestions from students in ways that seem harshly inappropriate, for example, by suspending or dismissing the student without providing any means of help: such was the well-publicized case of Jordan Nott at George Washington University. Both the Shin case and Jordan Nott’s treatment resulted in lawsuits against the respective universities.

This article examines the dramatic increase in campus suicides over the past few decades and argues that where college personnel have actual knowledge that an undergraduate student is suicidal, they have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the student from self-harm, including, but not limited to, notifying the student’s parents or guardian or reporting the information to an administrator who has authority to make such notification. Except in the most exigent circumstances, such notification would be sufficient to fulfill the duty. Notification of close family members would not only permit meaningful involvement on their part at a crucial point in their young person’s life, it would also avoid the seeming indifference of suspension or dismissal. The notion of this duty is grounded in the doctrine of special relationship between the institution and the student, explicated in Restatement of Torts (Second) Sec. 314A and reiterated in the new Restatement of Torts (Third) Sec. 40. Federal privacy laws, which contain an emergency exception, are no barrier; Congress is considering an amendment to make this clear. Even if the family is part of the problem, there is evidence from the field of psychology that their early involvement in their student’s treatment decisions is beneficial.

Supporting data for the perspective of this article arise from an examination of developmental psychology and brain development during late adolescence; emerging knowledge reveals that capacities for mature judgment and impulse control develop much later than was once thought. The paper also analyzes counter-arguments and proffers refutation based upon legal argumentation, psychology, and neuro-science.”


8 thoughts on “An Abstract Paper On Campus Suicides

  1. Our society’s inability to discuss openly and to effectively prevent student suicides is part of a larger problem of denial. The universities aren’t acting even in their own best interests when they look the other way as a student becomes suicidal and then after the tragedy, parents sue. Your crusade is timely.

    • Indeed!!! And as long as their fat salaries are safe, as long as the status quo is maintained, the only other thing that matters is keeping their ranking.
      Suddenly, out of the blue I am reminded of a character from one of Andrew’s favorite movie series, the character was called Fat Bastard. What can it mean?

  2. I definitely believe that suicide needs to be talked about more everywhere not just at colleges or universities. It’s a taboo and extremely sensitive topic that goes beyond college but more into the backbone of society. Personally for me, the topic and discussion of suicide and mental health never came up until I was in college taking psychology classes. It was never discussed in high school, in church, with my parents, friends, etc. There were a couple of movies that addressed it but no full discussion.

    The article you highlighted focuses on two incidents at universities in and around 2000. Since then schools like MIT and NYU have drastically changed their protocols and their outreach when it comes to mental health. Many schools talk to parents a lot more about issues. Yes, part of it is because of liability but another part is honestly sincere. For example, at a school like NYU if a student takes their life or dies somehow, counseling and other services will reach out to all students that are either in counseling or may be sensitive to the topic for their own reasons to make sure they’re okay. Schools have also in some cases doubled their mental health counseling staff. You are right in that professors, etc don’t know how to talk about suicide but it’s not because they don’t care. Honestly, I feel like its really because they just don’t know how to talk about it. We live in a society where talking about one’s feelings doesn’t come easy.

    One of the biggest issues with suicide is that many times you never know. One of my best friend’s brothers committed suicide and we never knew the full reasons why. He came from a big family, great parents, loving brothers and sisters. And in his case aspects of his mental illness were known but he was getting help. There was outreach everywhere for him.

    Suicide has always been a topic for me that is hard to grasp. I’ve read several books, talked with people who have thought of/attempted to take their lives, etc. But I don’t think I will ever really understand it because my mind has never been able to wrap my head around the why. It’s like I get it but don’t get it. Does that make sense?

    Personally, I think that the topic of suicide needs to be talked about a lot earlier than college. I recently read articles about children who killed themselves because they were bullied in school. I think one was possibly gay and another poor. Two completely different kids from different backgrounds.

    Anyways, I’m babbling at this point. I started following your blog early on because of the law of attraction stuff. I write my own blogs about life and topics like weight loss because its great therapy for me. While I’m assuming its the same for you, just know that what you write will help a lot of people dealing with the loss of someone due to suicide or even someone thinking about it. I know it won’t bring your son back but you could be preventing another one.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. And I am glad that you are still following me even though the focus of the blog has,for the moment, shifted, but that may also be [art of the Law of Attraction.
      As for University professors, if they don’t know how to talk to their students, then they NEED to learn.
      And indeed, I do advocate early “intervention” yoga and meditation from pre-school onwards.

  3. Esmeralda, we’re half a world away and share the same grief. I live in xxxx. I’m not up to speed with blogging to know how to reply to your blog posts. My son died by suicide one year prior to your son. He was 22. I am glued to your blog as it eerily and tragically mirrors the journey of my grief one year prior. While no one’s grief is exactly like anothers, I thank you for blogging about yours and working to bring the tragedy of suicide out of the darkness. I keep a journal and read a lot on the topic. Have you come across the term “survivor of suicide”? That is what we are. As a survivor we go through the stages of grief, non-linearly, and find ways to reconstruct our lives and do something with the part of how our loved one’s suicide has redefined us. But you know this from having saddly gone through this with your twin son’s death. So
    why am I writing you? Just to let you know I exist I guess. To let you know that your words bring comfort to my heart. To let you know another mother’s broken heart understands your pain right now. To let you know another person on this planet agrees with you that more needs to be done to understand and do what can be done to prevent death by suicide. And to thank you for blogging.

    • I am so glad that my writing is of help not only to me, but to you too. Thank you for reaching out to me, and for letting me know that there are people out there who value my writing. Hugs, Esmeralda

  4. Dear Esmeralda,
    I read the full article. Its thrush is helpful, but I find it rather conservative.
    Pushing for a duty of care is fine but the author agrees that this rests on knowledge of imminent harm.
    Contacting parents vital, but again depends on when the college authorities hear about students’ troubles.
    Peer group support is extremely minimised. In fact almost discouraged on the grounds that these kids brains are as yet not fully developed and that peer groups may encourage risky behavior!
    The bias is towards legal, professional, familial and institutional care of individuals, and not collective caring by peers.
    I would say that colleges who are supposed to teach knowledge need to implement some of it and recognise the vulnerability of young adults and set up specific programs of peer group support of those signaling they are troubled, with protocols for referring on to professionals. Since we know that peers are the ones most likely to learn about trouble first, these early warning systems need to be funded and built into the whole system from pre-school to graduate school.

    • Dear Dave, thank you for your insightful comment. This is a learning curve (wish I’d be learning something else). I’ve just signed up to attend a conference in Washington organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and I’ll learn a lot more there. The conference will end with some of us meeting with our senators and congressman.

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