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March 26, 1978 - Image 9

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Michigan Daily, 1978-03-26
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Page 8-Sunday, March 26, 1978-The Michigan Daily

suicide
(Continued from Page 6)
odds, with disastrous consequences for
John's well-being.
"I've always felt a very grievious
wound within me that I didn't feel
could be healed. I think my father
was the main reason-that one ex-
perience with my father and the rest
of my life with my father. He just
made me feel guilty, like I was no
good, that everybody was against
me and that I had to fight off the
whole universe . . . like I was all
alone. My father put me down so
bad I couldn't accept myself, I was
always punishing myself."
A related problem is the effect of a
parent's suicide or the suicide of a
significant person in a child's life. For
those individuals who have experienced
such a loss, the chances are greater
that they will attempt suicide: a "ker-
nel of destruction" lies within them.
Finally, John shares one- other
statistically significant attribute of
potentially suicidal people-he has at-
tempted suicide before.
Seventy-five per cent of those who at-
tempt suicide have tried it before.
EXPERTS HAVE also noted an
interesting distinction between
men and women in regards to
suicidal behavior. While women attem-
pt suicide three times as often as men,
men are three times more likely to suc-
ceed. This is largely due to the different
methods used by each sex. "Women
tend much more to be ingesters and
slicers; taking pills, slicing the wrists,"
says Gerler. "Men are more likely to
engage in more non-reversible
ways-shooting yourself or hanging
yourself." As for the reason why, there
are only guesses. "Part of this might
be attributed to our culture where
women, by and large, are less violent
than men. But no one really knows."
And although those who deal with
suicide say it is impossible to detect a
suicidal person, there are several well-
known clues that, while they may not
indicate suicide in and of themselves,
are strong indicators of deep
psychological trouble. These include:
-a marked change in behavior. Says
Carli: "They were sociable, now
they're withdrawn; they were neat,
now they don't take care of themselves.
Those are tip-offs that something is
going wrong.''
-verbalizations or hints about a
suicidal desire.
-a noticeably large number of self-
deprecating remarks.
-giving away many prized
possessions. Again Carli: "That's
someone who's planning. They're just
taking care of business, setting things
straight."
WHILE THESE clues and
other general knowledge
about suicide apply in all age
groups to varying degrees, University
psychiatrists, naturally, have an inside
view of one aspect of the suicide
problem that has drawn increasing at-
tention of late-student suicide. Recent
research has shown that student suicide
rates have grown dramatically in the
last several decades. And while this
might partly be attributed to the.
general rise in suicides among youth, at
least one study has revealed that the
student suicide rate is 50 per cent
higher than that of non-students in a
similar age group.
To some degree, student suicides are
precipitated by the especially

tumultous life-stage most college
students are passing through-the
transition from adolescence to young
adulthood. Consequently, when studen-
ts come in for counseling they are most
often concerned about personal
problems such as "identity crises of one
sort or another, troubles with interper-
sonal relationships or even existential
questions like 'What's the meaning of
what I'm doing and why am I at the
University?'," says Harold Corn of
University Counseling Services. Sur-
prisingly enough, University coun-
selors say they see very few students
who are despondent solely over
academic problems.
Furthermore, suicides do not cluster
around finals time (as popular belief
might have it) but rather in the middle
of the two regular semesters, around
October and March.
Nevertheless, there are pressures
related to the competitive,
achievement-oriented atmosphere of
the college campus. They can generate
intense feelings of inadequacy and
failure which, in turn, can lead to
severe mental disturbances among
some students.
"Students come to college and they
have been, by and large, academically
successful-or they wouldn't be here,"
notes Gerler. "Obviously, now they are
in a different league where some
students can succeed as before and
others are not as successful as they
used to be. For the second kind of
student, in their own eyes, they may
feel they've failed. They may get a 'B',
but what is failure? For some people a
gentleman 'C' is fine but to some a 'B' is
a miserable failure. If you have been a
straight 'A' student, all these expec-.
tations, these standards-your own,
yourbparents', friends', relatives'-may
just become too heavy."
Moreover, some studies have in-
dicated that this problem of not
measuring up to standards (and instan-
ces of mental problems in general, in-
cluding suicide) may be more
prevalent at top-flight colleges such as
Michigan, Harvard, and Berkeley.
Some psychiatrists here see an "in-
teraction effect" in terms of the kind of
students these elite institutions attract
and the additional stresses that may
come from a scholastically high-
powered atmosphere. In short, students
at these institutions may have higher
aspirations for themselves than the
average student, while the competition
may be all that much keener.
Another widespread problem among
college students is loneliness. Ob-
viously, this is especially true at very
large universities-such as
Michigan-where students may feel
anonymous, cut off from meaningful
communication, and, in some instan-
ces, completely friendless nd isolated.
While in some cases this may simply be
the student's perception, it may be the
reality as well. One study of suicide at
Berkeley revealed that one student lay
dead in his room for 18 days before
anyone noticed his absence. And in Oc-
tober, 1976, a University sophomore
was found dead in his South Quad room,
a full four days after putting a gun to his
head.
These students may communicate
their feelings of desperation through
academic channels. Says Gerler:
"You'd be surprised how frequently
students, in papers, write about topics
that cause questions to arise . . . a
teacher will come to me and say, 'I
have this student and he wrote a paper
that really scared me.' And you can
look at that as a cry for help."
HERE ARE certain "target
groups" of students who may
be especially prone to severe

psychological distress, and thus
suicide. One such group is incoming
freshpersons. These students face ob-
vious hurdles in trying to adjust to
campus life, and the insecurities and
uncertainties that are involved in
being away from home. "For some,"
observes one psychiatric counselor,
"it's the first time they're away from
home and Mom and Dad. And when the
pressure is on and Mom and Dad aren't
there for the first time, some people
might have the tendency to kind of go to
their room and suck their thumb and
wait for Mom to bring them a cup of tea
or something."
Another such group is graduating
seniors, who are wrestling with what
they want to do with their life. And one
group that is widely believed to be un-
der the most stress and to have a high
incidence of psychological disturbance
is medical students. Popularly typified
as highly-motivated, intense in-
dividuals, they are seen as likely can-
didates for psychological overload-a
conception recently reinforced on cam-
pus when a fourth-year Inteflex student
hurled himself out of a Burton Tower
window last month. In fact, doctors
have one of the highest rates of suicide
and psychiatric trouble of all oc-
cupational categories.
However, Dr. Irv Smokler of the
University's Medical School believes
that the mental health of medical
students is "essentially no different
from that of undergraduates or other
graduate students. Despite the greater
time commitment the medical school
requires and the additional stresses it
brings . . . I don't think there's any
more of a problem here than anywhere
else."
However, Dr. Danto of the Suicide
Prevention Center says he thinks
medical studentsdo experiencekmore
psychological difficulties, largely
because of stiff competition. "Many
med students wind up as psychiatric
casualties because of the cut-throat
competition." In fact, Danto asserts
that, "At one time, for example, one
third of med students at Wayne State
were in psychiatric treatment." And
yet, Danto notes, other grad schools,
such as nursing schools, also have
many students who ask for help.
INALLY, A very visible group
on campus, in regard to suicide,
is foreign students. According to
John Heise of the University's Inter-
national Center, when a foreign student
commits suicide the University must
take care of the details the student's
family usually handles, and there is
more attendant publicity. Actually,
Heise says, suicide rates for foreign
students at Michigan run on a par with
or below those for regular students.
"We have about one every two years.
Usually it's the result of some problem
that students brought from home. . . a
bad marital situation or whatever."
Regardless of who the suicide victim
happens to be, the effects on those left
behind are devastating. And though
some research has been done on the
suicide victims themselves, relatively
little has been done on what are called
"the survivor-victims." Psychology
Prof. Albert Cain, the author of a book
entitled Survivors of Suicide, has done
extensive research on the feelings and
emotions that typically afflict those
close to the suicide victim.
"For the people involved," says Cain,
"there is not only the stark, momentary
shock of it all, but in addition there are
a number of fairly typical reactions.
One you see fairly often is. that of
denial, that 'No, it couldn't be that, it
was an accident, he was just cleaning
the gun', or whatever. Of course, that's '
very saving to believe. This kind of
reaction finds its way into the death

certification process, where pretty ob-
vious suicides are classified as
"equivocal' or 'accidental'."
Guilt is also a common and crippling
reaction. "In what ways should I have
known? In what ways could I have
helped?. What messages did I miss?
These are profound and grinding
questions to those who are left," notes
Cain.
For some survivors, there may be
more self-directed questions that can
prove equally disturbing. "There may
be anxieties that 'he or she (the suicide
victim) didn't seem that much more
upset or under more tension or stress
than I am.' For some, it immediately
raised questions like 'Is it possible I
could go this far?' "
AND WHILE survivors are very
much in need of counseling,
clearly the major thrust of psy-
chiatric counseling in suicides is direc-
ted toward those who have tried com-
mitting suicide. Again, therapy is very
much an individualized process,
depending on the extent and nature of
the person's problems.
All in all, says Dr. Carli, "Almost
everybody who tries it is ambivalent
about it. They want to die, but they
want to live." Accordingly, "you try to
tie in with the healthier side of the per-
son ... and with the suicide attempter,
we try to tap into the part of
them-which may be quite deeply
buried-that really does want to live."
Carli emphasizes that "any blanket
re-assurances don't work. People, in
order to accept someone else as a
helper, have to feel that that person has
some awareness of the personal, unique
suffering they're going through. If I just
give blanket assurances-Life is worth
living, life is tough'-the person might
feel that 'Hey, you don't know what I'm
going through."'
Dr. Corn sees therapy as "essen-
tially, helping this person forgive them-
selves so that instead of saying I failed
this particular course or in this par-
ticular relationship and I am a wor-
thless person', you try to get them to
look at the circumstances that led to the
failure ... if it was a relationship, well,
the other person was certainly con-
tributing to that failure, or if it was a
course, well, maybe you really didn't
want to be there in the first.place.
Basically, that it's not all their fault."
BVIOUSLY, THE best therapy
comes before the attempt is
made. Ideally, psychiatrists
say, someone close to a troubled in-
dividual will notice that something is
wrong, talk to the individual and take
appropriate action. In most cases, this
involves either persuading the in-
dividual to seek professional help, or
conferring with a counselor yourself to
talk about the individual.
Other than that, all experts agree
that the most helpful thing a friend can
do is simply listen to the other person
and show them you care. Above all,
says Carli, "take any sort of hint or
threat seriously. Joking about it,
ignoring it, pretending it didn't hap-
pen-it doesn't work. What this does to
the person is tell them that they can't
talk to anybody about it."
Adds Carli: "One of the most helpful
things a friend can do is recognize that
the other person is suffering and that it
must be very painful, but that there are
other solutions besides killing them-
selves."
In a crunch, says one counselor, "the
best thing anyone can offer is what I
call 'across-the-back-fence' help, just
friendly conversation and concern. You
just can't underestimate how much or-
dinary, everyday human caring can
help."

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inside:

Suicide: the hidden
tragedy and
cry for help

Books:
Tennenbaum 's
'The Rabbi's Wifi

Supplement to The Michigan Daily

Ann Arbor, Michigan-Sunday, March 26, 1978

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