It’s impossible to ignore the recent string of suicides at our fellow institutions. Two suicides occurred last month at Cornell University, a Yale University junior took his life last week and a Penn student reportedly committed suicide last fall. I could quote statistics about how many students attempt or succeed at suicide. Or I could talk about how Penn’s campus is a stressful environment. The Daily Beast ranked us fourth out of “50 Most Stressful Colleges” and shamelessly used Cornell’s recent tragedies to illustrate the effects of a “pressure-cooker environment.” But statistics can be misleading and linking stress to suicide is another way to sensationalize the act rather than to offer proactive information.
No one thing causes suicide — in fact, according to Penn’s Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Bill Alexander, many people who commit suicide are not depressed. Suicide can be the result of anxiety, alcohol, impulsivity from momentary distress or an availability of lethal means. Given that impulsivity is a large factor in suicide, it’s unfair to friends of people who have taken their lives to say that suicide is preventable. But now is certainly a time to be more vigilant in looking out for fellow students. The focus doesn’t even have to be on suicide per se — stress is a very real and normal thing, and taking the time to check in with friends can help immensely.
That’s partly why now more than ever before, a peer counseling program would be appropriate for our campus. As many in student government have proclaimed, our campus could use more unity, and a peer counseling program would be an excellent way to enhance unity as well as provide a valuable service for students. In the fall, CAPS will be exploring options for a peer counseling program modeled after those at Cornell and Stanford University.
Student counselors would be required to take training courses that might be offered through the University. Stanford’s required courses for counselors are in the Education Department while Cornell’s are open to the student community but not formally offered as academic courses. Students could take the training courses without intending to complete counselor training simply as a way to make friends and learn how to be a better listener.
The program wouldn’t be like a student version of CAPS — student counselors wouldn’t give advice or tell peers what they should do. It would be a way to talk about and explore issues in an unbiased way with people who most likely experience many of the same challenges. The goal is that through talking, people will be able to discover their own solutions to problems or uncertainties. Discussions would remain confidential, and, if appropriate, student counselors could discuss options and resources for students to find further help.
College junior and Undergraduate Assembly President-elect Matt Amalfitano proposed renovating the Kappa Alpha house to use as a common space. What if we used it as a peer counseling space? Stanford’s counseling center, The Bridge, actually has a handful of live-in counselors who lead their peer counseling program. Considering that the building already has bedrooms, a live-in model like Stanford’s is a definite possibility. Otherwise, the space could operate like the Kelly Writers House, providing a homey and comfortable place for people to talk and hang out with offices upstairs.
In light of the recent suicides at other Ivy League schools, it’s important to talk about suicide in a proactive way. But even more important are systems that deal with problems as they come up rather than waiting to see “warning signs” of depression or anxiety. The University’s existing strategy of university liaisons who alert CAPS staff to potential concerns is beneficial, but a peer counseling program is even better, and CAPS is to be commended for taking steps to create one.
Katherine Rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rea-lity Check appears on Fridays.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.