Page 8-Friday, December 11, 1981-The Michigan Daily
Low self-image common in depressed individuals
By KATHLYN HOOVER
The suicide note said he was a misfit,
but; many people who were close to
University law student David
Doroshewitz described him as a
brilliant and creative young man.
Iioroshewitz hung himself last month
in 'the basement of his parents'
Sodthgate home. He was 23.
NOBODY KNOWS for sure why
Dooshewitz killed himself. Friends
and teachers were shocked by his
death. Others said he was very
depressed when he hung himself.
I.T IT IS this type of suicide-one in
which the victim is a high-achiever with
a J#ight future-that catches everyone
by complete surprise, according to Dr.
Robert Lobis, an authority on suicide
and a psychiatrist at the Leonard Mor-
se hospital in Natick, Mass.
'is is the hard-working person who
sems to have everything going for
him, but he doesn't have much aside
from his achievements," Lobis ex-
Victims like Doroshewitz, he said,
may hide their feelings of hopelessness.
and worthlessness by continually
achieving. But as a result, they may
feel valued only for their accomplish-
ments, and not for themselves.
BUT AFTER they fail at something,
they believe their low self-image is con-
firmed, and may attempt to hurt them-
selves, said Sarah Benet, director of
Project Assist, an education and
training program on suicide for health
professionals and para-professionals.
Suicide among people in the 15- to 29-
year-old age group has risen 300 per-
cent in the last 15 years. It is now the
second leading cause of death among
There are no simple. answers to
questions about why people commit
suicide, explained Lobis. "If the per-
son's life history were known, then-
perhaps the attempt could be predicted,
but since it usually isn't, suicide ap-
pears to outsiders as if it happens to
just anyone," he said.
ACCORDING TO a Harvard Univer-
sity study on depression and suicide in
college students, depression arises in
students when they fail to meet
unrealistic expectations set by them-
selves and/or their parents, or they
have made no career choice by the end
of their junior or senior years.
The study, conducted by Dr..Preston
Munter of the Harvard School of Public
Health, also points out that depression
in students also can be ignited by their
lack of a sexualized love object or by
their homosexual feelings, fantasized
or overt. Students falling into the latter
group, as well as foreign students who
have flunked out of school and would
rather die than go back to their
homeland, are considered very high
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risk candidates for suicide, the report
One common denominator Lobis has
noted in suicidal youths is low self-
esteem. "It's something that develops
throughout our lives and grows
primarily out of our experiences
with significant others (such as parents
or lovers)," he said.
IN SOME suicide cases, Lobis said,
an unpleasant external experience,
such as breaking up with a loved one,
can trigger these feelings of low self-
esteem and prompt the depressed in-
dividual to attempt suicide.
But this doesn't mean the person
wants to kill himself or herself.
"Most people who attempt suicide
are not with the motivation to kill them-
selves," said Marvin Brandwin, a
psychologist in the University
Hospital's psychiatric department. A
suicide attempt is generally a cry fh
help; a drastic gesture one resorts to
after more indirect methods of trying to
connect with someone have failed, he
LOBIS SAID that for every successful
suicide there are between 10 and 100 at-
Dr. Eva Deykin, a professor at the
Harvard School of Public Health, said
many suicides among young people are
accidents that end tragically because of
miscalculation or poor judgment. To
support her theory, Deykin said
statistics show that although young
people make more suicide attempts,
older people succeed more often.
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Peykin said older people commit
suicide in higher numbers because they
may be more serious about it. "The
reality of the situation is different for
the old," she says. "Many times there's
no one around to intervene."
THE MUNTER STUDY lists two
criteria to be considered when predic-
ting whether a person is thinking about
suicide. First, the recent or i npending
loss of a significant person, such as the
death of a parent or loved one should be
evident. Secondly, ruminations about
death and/or threats to commit suicide
should be noted.,
People who talk about hurting them-
selves should be taken seriously, Lobis
.said, noting that eight out of 10 people
who commit suicide tell someone they
are thinking of doing it before they at-
Other signs mentioned by Lobis and
Benet include a great change in eating
and drinking habits, the giving away of
prized possessions, a severe drop in
school grades, and unnecessary risk
"THERE IS no one particular sign,"
Benet said. "You have to put things
Emphatic contact is crucial in suc-
cessful interventions with suicidal
people, Benet added. She said one
should do the following if he or she
knows someone contemplating suicide:
" Assess the immediate risk of
suicide by asking the person how she or
he would do it;
" Ask the person if he or she has the
means to do it; and
" Ask the person if he or she has
decided when and where he or she
would do it.
Friends and other interested persons
should not worry about putting ideas
about suicide in the person's head,
Benet said. Almost everyone has
thought about suicide at one time or.
another, she noted.
Lobis said the intervention process is
painful and difficult. "We must fight
within ourselves the automatic tenden-
cy to avoid responsibility, to minimize
the seriousness of the situation, and to
hasten reassurance, more for ourselves
than the suicidal person," he said.
If the suicidal individual feels a sense
of connectedness, his or her self-esteem
will rise sufficiently to diminish the
urgency of his or her suicidal impulse
and the person can be guided toward
professional help, said Lobis.
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By KATHLYN HOOVER
With college students commiting
suicide more than any others in the 15 to
24 age group, universities face a dif-
ficult task in creating a system to com-
bat the problem.
The University of Wisconsin at
Madison maintains a renowned
program for identifying- depressed
students and handling suicide attempts.
KEY PARTS of the program,
developed by the Dean of Students' Of-
fice at the University of Wisconsin, in-
clude guidelines designed to instruct
residence hall staff members how to
deal with suicide attempts and
depressed individuals, an intensive
mailing campaign, and education and
training workshops on suicide.
According to University of Wisconsin
Dean of Students Paul Ginsberg, the
procedure for handling a suicide at-
tempt begins when 'resideice hall staff
members phone campus police or,
security. An officer then transports the
victim to the university or local
At the hospital, the victim is treated,
and attended to by a psychiatrist who
determines the student's length of stay.
"WE FEEL IT'S of some value for
the person to spend at least one night at
the hospital to meet his or her needs
and the needs of his or her hallmates,"
Ginsberg stressed the importance of
counseling students who live with or
near a person who has attempted
"Many times the roommate asks,
'What do I say when he comes home
from the hospital?' They aren't sure
how to treat the person," Ginsberg
THE PARENTS of the student who
has attempted suicide are contacted.
"We do our very best and work very
hard at getting the parents involved,"
he said. "It's likely the parents are part
of the problem and the solution."
Although under some circumstances
contacting parents may be a violation
of a student's right to privacy, Ginsberg
said that in life-threatening situations,
"we use our better judgment."
HE SAID contacting the parents may
prevent the individual from making a
second attempt on his or her life.
"There are times when we've made the
call without the student's approval, but
with his knowledge," he added.
After being released' from the
hospital, the student is extensively
counseled by a professional from either
Ginsberg's office or a community men-
tal health center.
The residence hall staff is required to
report all suicide attempts to the dean's
office. The housing staff also must
report even the remotest indication that
a student may be considering hurting
himself or herself, Ginsberg said. In the
latter case, the dean's office can im-
mediately send a professional coun-
selor to see the depressed student. This
on-call counseling service is provided
24 hours a day, seven days a week, Gin-
"WE GET numerous calls every
week from faculty and students saying-
they tfink a friend is hurting," Gin-
sberg said, noting that 95 percent of the
time the depressed student is ap-
preciative that a counselor intervened.
"The student (residence hall) staff is
very willing to refer people to the
dean's office because they know the
people will be treated appropriately
and humanely, said Bill Sweet, an
assistant director of housing and
student affairs at Wisconsin.
"I think we're reaching out effec-
tively," Ginsberg said, pointing out that
there has been an increase in the num-
ber of students being counseled at the
dean's office this year, although the.
number of suicide attempts and suc-
cessful suicides has not risen.
Ginsberg's office sends 5,000 to 6,000
letters to the community two or three
times a year in an attempt to make
people aware that suicide is a serious
The letters identify particularly
stressful times of the year, such as
during holidays and final exams. In ad-
dition, the letters explain what signs to
look for in a suicidal person and suggest
where people can get help.
Throughout the academic year,
moreover, residence hall staff mem-
bers attend weekly meetings in which
student affairs coordinators-who are
responsible for training resident direc-
tors and assistants-hold workshops on
issues concerning suicide, depression,
stress and test anxiety.
"It's important to talk about suicide
and get it out into the open," Ginsberg.
explained. "It makes me mad when
people try-to cover it up and pretend it
doesn't exist. There is so much we don't
know about it yet."
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