The death of Theodric Reed, a College senior who studied English, was ruled a suicide, the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed. Reed, who died on Aug. 24, was 22 years old.
A memorial service was held for Reed near his home in Santa Clarita, Calif., over the weekend.
Reed had a history of depression throughout his college years. He saw therapists both at Counseling and Psychological Services and at home, and took a leave of absence during what would have been his sophomore year to deal with his depression.
Over dinner two days before the suicide, Reed and his mother, Linda Douglas, talked about Penn and his return to campus this semester. In the middle of the conversation, Reed suddenly said that Penn wouldn’t care if he committed suicide, but would only care if he committed suicide on campus, Douglas said in an interview Sunday night. That was the second time he expressed that sentiment to his mother.
Reed still enjoyed Penn, “as much as someone as depressed as he was” could, Douglas said. She once asked if he ever regretted applying to Penn early decision. He would do it over again if given the chance, he responded.
“As soon as he set foot on campus, he knew that was the school for him,” Douglas said in an interview two weeks ago, after Reed’s death. “He was a good kid, and a mother couldn’t ask for a better son.”
Reed started his freshman year in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. The summer after freshman year, he started seeing a therapist in one-on-one sessions one to two times per week, his mother, Douglas said. He continued with therapy until he returned to campus after a yearlong leave of absence. As a sophomore — no longer in the Hunstman Program, but an English major — Reed began seeing a counselor at CAPS, Douglas said.
The following summer, Reed did not receive counseling, but his mother became concerned with his behavior after he returned to Penn in his junior year. She called his former counselor at CAPS in hopes of gaining insight and help. The counselor told Douglas that her son did not need any intervention, she said.
At home, Reed’s therapist expressed a similar opinion as the CAPS counselor. “She actually said, ‘He’s definitely not depressed,’” Douglas recalled of a conversation with his California-based therapist.
Douglas believes that counselors did not recognize Reed’s depression in part because he hid symptoms from counselors and peers.
“He didn’t present himself as being depressed. He didn’t like that label,” she said. More “aggressive” and regular sessions with counselors may have illuminated the issues he faced, she added. “If they did that they’d see that what he’s telling them is different than the life he’s living.”
Kathryn Lin, a 2014 College and Wharton graduate who was in Reed’s Huntsman class, said she felt Reed “was a really great person that a lot of people didn’t get to know.”
College and Wharton senior Max Wolff, who was Reed’s freshman year roommate, was also in the Huntsman Program and kept in touch with Reed through the years at Penn. “Anyone who ever came in contact with him I know will say he was a nice, totally what-you-see-is-what-you-get, genuine guy,” Wolff said. Penn paid for Wolff to travel to California for Reed’s memorial service over the weekend.
Reed’s death is the fourth Penn student suicide since the start of last school year. After three student suicides last semester, Penn President Amy Gutmann announced the creation of a student mental health task force to study the state of mental wellness at Penn. The task force will present recommendations to the president and provost by the end of 2014, and expects to present preliminary ideas to student groups later this month.
In a statement made in the days after Reed’s death, the University said: “We were all deeply saddened to hear of his death, and Penn staff have reached out to his family in California to do everything we can to be supportive.” A University spokesperson declined to comment further for this article.
Victor Schwartz, medical director at the Jed Foundation, an organization that promotes mental health and suicide prevention on college campuses, emphasized the importance of reaching out for help and opening up when dealing with mental illnesses like depression.
Schwartz also advised students who are worried about friends’ mental health to point to specific examples of concerning behavior — for example, skipping classes or drinking more — when recommending they seek help.
He added that treatment is beneficial in the vast majority of situations. “There are sometimes bad outcomes, but that doesn’t mean that help is not happening,” Schwartz said. “Help helps, but we can only help you if you ask for help.”
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