Brain Waves: The essential conversation

Brain Waves: The essential conversation

Dan Robinson, Contributing Columnist

Last week our school experienced an inexplicable tragedy after a student took his own life — a tragedy Tulane has seen too many times. While I did not know Harris Elledge personally, his passing took me back to a place I have struggled to leave for a long time. Brain Waves was created after multiple suicides happened in the Tulane community last year. One in particular, Mary Travis, inspired me to become a Crisis Counselor, so that in the wake of future incidents I would not feel so helpless. It gave me the tools to safely and effectively respond to others’ pain. Following the loss of Harris, it is important to share information about both why suicide takes place and ways we can help prevent future incidents.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, taking over 1,100 lives annually, or about 3 a day. As suicides often happen in chains, rather than in isolated situations (particularly in age brackets 18-24), having a conversation about this now rather than later is imperative.

It is known that suicide has the potential to trigger people who have experienced anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. For that reason, not addressing this issue quickly and directly can be incredibly dangerous. People who experience suicidal ideation are often afraid to talk about it to friends, families and providers out of fear of the reaction it may provoke. They believe they are the only ones having such disturbing imagery in their minds. But, in reality one in four college students will experience suicidal thoughts at some point over their college career; one in twelve will seriously contemplate the idea of suicide while at school. To put it simply, it is a lot more common than people tend to recognize.

To anyone who is currently experiencing suicidal ideation, I strongly encourage you to talk about it with a mental health professional, friends and family. Having a conversation can provide an enormous sense of relief and can help a provider find the correct treatment.

As a concerned friend, it should be clear that noticing the signs too late does not mean that you failed someone or that you are a bad person. The feelings associated with contemplating suicide are very complex and many people try to hide those feelings. You did not ‘let it happen’. It is also important to know that asking a person whether they are feeling suicidal will not trigger them into becoming suicidal. Let me say this again: if a person is not feeling suicidal, asking them will not make them suddenly develop these types of thoughts.

There is a manner to approaching this conversation. The suicide assessment risk, which follows, is used by professionals when dealing with potential victims. The first step is establishing that a person is in fact experiencing suicidal thoughts. If they answer yes, this is considered stage one. This does not necessarily indicate they are in danger but that they need to talk to someone. From this point, ask the person, “When you think of death or dying, what do you imagine?” If the person describes a particular means or mechanism of death, continue the assessment onto stage three, which is establishing that the person has both a plan and means to carry this plan out. Questions that are used to establish stage three may include, “How do you plan on dying? Do you currently have (item described) in your possession?”

If the person answers yes at this point, this is indicative of a more serious situation where intervention should be considered. Ask your friend whether they would feel comfortable giving you the items described above. In either circumstance, you should move onto stage four which is looking to establish a time-frame. “Do you plan on carrying out this plan in the next 24-48 hours? If so, what are some things we can do to keep you safe until then?”

If a person indicates that they are in fact in stage three or four, one should call the Tulane University Police Department immediately. The situation at this point is life threatening and must be addressed as soon as possible. If the person has not reached that critical point, I strongly encourage you to contact CAPS or file a concern report with student services. They will work to ensure that every student can find the help they need. Despite being a dear friend or romantic partner, you should never take on these situations alone. Finding professional help is the most selfless thing you can do to help a friend, even if they convey opposition to this. In the long run, your friend will understand this decision came out of love.

While this recent loss by suicide has taken me back to this dark place, it is something that is essential to talk about. These thoughts cannot physically harm you, but it can it make you realize how important it is to get help. If you feel a friend is experiencing suicidal ideation, ask them. You will not trigger them into experiencing these feelings, but it is often provides enormous relief for those who are suffering. We cannot control the tragedies of the world. But we can learn from others’ pain in order to find a better outcome for ourselves. Help is always out there.