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Editorial: After tragedy, suicide prevention key consideration

If there’s one take-away lesson from last week’s apparent death by suicide of University of Maine sophomore psychology student Timothy James Dodge Jr., it’s that college students are in a vulnerable place and life isn’t getting easier.

In our first years of college, we’re forced to move away from our homes, which are often in small communities in far-flung places.

Then we’re forced to do more work than ever before. Many students take jobs to stay afloat financially, yet we’re spending more and more of our and our parents’ money to hopefully get jobs in fields we love.

And when you mix those stressors with all-too-common life issues like breakups, troubles at home and difficulty becoming involved in campus activities, it’s no shock that students are struggling.

Doug Johnson, director of the counseling center, told The Maine Campus he’s seeing students come through his doors more and more showing signs of anxiety and depression.

“We do hear it a lot from the students we work with that they feel there’s a lot of pressure on students nowadays,” he said.

A 2010 Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Program fact sheet stated that suicide is the state’s second leading cause of death in youth, a category spanning the ages of 10-25. Though Johnson said college students have proven to be at a lower risk for suicide than the 18-24 demographic that chooses not to go to college, many do strain to adapt to the new environment.

UMaine hasn’t seen the volume of suicides other Maine schools have, something Johnson chalked up to an aggressive community approach to engaging students. He said he doesn’t know of any other UMaine student suicide in the past four years.

According to The Free Press, citing unofficial University of Southern Maine numbers, that university had 13 student suicides between 2007 and 2011.

But in 2009, the university community was impacted when police said Collin Bates, an Orono resident who had stopped taking classes at UMaine, died by suicide.

The local response was great. In 2010, players from the Orono High School football team, which Bates had played on, showed up at the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, an annual event at UMaine aimed at bringing talk of suicide to the forefront of campus attention and community social dialogue.

We can’t be shy about discussing suicide, no matter how much it hurts. We must engage those close to us who may be feeling down and lift them before issues are aggravated.

If you or someone you know are feeling depressed or even suicidal, representatives from UMaine’s Division of Student Affairs and the counseling center are available to provide help. Information on warning signs and contact information for support are available below.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is partnering with Google and Facebook to monitor potentially suicidal behavior online, according to CNN. When one Googles suicide-related topics, the hotline’s number appears; on Facebook, one can report any suicidal content seen or engage suicide prevention specialists in a chat.

TJ’s death doesn’t define his life. Those who knew him must remember him at his most  gregarious.

After all, he’s the one who friend Alex Young described as prone to dance in crowds back home in Rockland. His mother said he was a free spirit, full of vim and vigor.

That’s who he was. Nobody can rewrite that.

Now, we need to take this to heart. Maybe we can find help for the next person considering suicide.

Editor’s Note: The University of Maine’s Counseling Center can be reached at 581-1110. Warning signs for suicide, via the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, can be found here. When school is in session, the University of Maine Police Department offers the services of a 24/7, emergency counselor upon request by calling their dispatch line at 581-4040.