Here is a well considered student opinion piece on the subject from today's Cornell Daily Sun. Echoes what my daughter ('11) has expressed...
March 16, 2010 - 2:35am
By Steven Zhang
An important lesson that the recent tragedies have taught us is that suicide is not an underlying problem in and of itself, but merely a side effect. Although stationing guards at every bridge on campus is a short-term answer that addresses our recent losses, this myopic strategy is unviable and will not ameliorate our problem in the long-term. Instead, our efforts must be aimed at controlling the primary factors that lead to these tragic losses.
First, we must realize that the academic and social environment of our University will always push us, faculty and students alike, to our physical and mental extremes: Our University’s culture is inherently competitive and stressful. It is not uncommon to see students dedicate hours of studying towards a single prelim only to receive unsatisfactory scores — a debilitating blow to our self-esteems that is only further exacerbated when we consider our intellect a large part of our individual identity. We have invested great efforts only to receive little reward. Nevertheless, most of us are rarely perturbed by our temporary shortcomings and we come out with more tenacity and motivation. And it is this intellectual vigor, which we will proudly display for the rest of our lives, that distinguishes our University from its many peers.
However, it begs a long overdue question: How much of this demanding lifestyle can a student, regardless of his mental and physical capabilities, tolerate for several weeks at a time? Outside of winter and spring breaks and perhaps a fortuitous weekend absent of projects, papers and prelims, the academic season is a seemingly unending grind. This notion should prompt us to find a means to relieve our stress without sacrificing our core values. Perhaps it is time to consider implementing stress relief days for the entire University, including the students, faculty and staff, to take a break from work (as they do at MIT). After all, in order to uphold our University’s values, they must first be sustainable.
Second, we must address our mental health programs. When implementing these programs, we cannot ignore the problematic characteristics of those who are depressed: Depression is an illness of mental and physical immobility, depriving its host of almost all motivation. Though we have received countless e-mails and pamphlets encouraging us to take advantage of these counseling resources, how much impact do these passive words have on those who truly need these services?
Although we have numerous organizations offering counseling, they have been taking a passive and reactionary role. We cannot forget that the burden to emerge from depression rests upon the students in need; that is it up to them who must take the initial step to call the Gannett Health hotline, wait patiently to hear instructions from an automated voice and finally press “1” to reach the counseling services. We mustn’t forget that it is the students in need who must climb up the slope and then trek across the quad to find refuge in the Counseling and Psychological Services office on Ho Plaza. It is the students in need who must knock on the door of a resident or faculty adviser, but not before summoning the courage and will to confide in another person.
Therefore, we cannot rely on these counseling services alone. Rather, we must take an active stance. Fortunately, the recent policy to aggressively seek out those in need was an admirable, albeit late, step by the University: A brief and simple reminder from a resident adviser or faculty will make all the difference. And I can only hope that we, the students, will also follow suit by adopting warmer and more open demeanors through the rest of our days here at Cornell. However, depression will have a constant presence on campus and our combined efforts are not only for the short-term.
Finally, we must resist the temptation to become desensitized by these tragedies. It has become common practice to gloss over the proverbial elephant in the room when a suicide occurs. We are quick to write on Facebook walls and call friends and family members. And though our consoling words are naturally sympathetic reactions to these tragedies, they suggest that we perceive suicide as a normal response to our problems — a last resort that we will grudgingly accept after the act is complete.
However, we all know that this implication is far from the truth, that we will never accept suicide as a solution. In fact, students should never even consider it as a response. We must cultivate a campus where suicide has absolutely zero presence. Though it is comforting to reminisce on extinguished relationships, remember the their special traits and revisit fond memories, we have to confront the amorality and indecency of the acts as well.
The tragedies in these past weeks have cruelly forced us to reflect upon our mental health policies. But more importantly, it has reminded us that, during our time here at Cornell, we are one another’s most important support system and it is time we assume our responsibilities.
Steven Zhang is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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