Suicide response letters too harsh to help
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 22:05
Care, support and concern are words you would expect to hear used when offering assistance to a suicidal individual. None of these terms are used in the initial response letter sent by Plattsburgh State to students who have shown suicidal behavior. Instead, terms such as required, violation and suspension suggest punishment for the victim’s actions in a message that should express urgent concern for the student’s well-being.
That is not to say the message can’t be demanding. Any report of suicidal behavior should be addressed as soon as humanly possible to offer support or to find false alarms. Students who resist assistance may be putting themselves at further risk by avoiding a discussion of their feelings and a treatment plan from being established. In such cases, a sense of urgency and severity can be used to apply a certain level of pressure and insist that students face their conditions.
However, the value of a comforting word should not be understated either. It would seem that suicidal behaviors traditionally stem from feelings of discouragement and isolation which can lead students to a sense of hopelessness from lack of support. Sometimes, it seems, even the treatment of those behaviors can make an individual feel alone and disconnected, as Amy Greenberg expressed in her letter to the editor.
It would only seem to make sense, then, that phrases of comfort and encouragement could be used to express to students that help is being offered through the follow-up meeting and Lifeline program. As the initial letter is phrased now, no mention is given of the topics that will be discussed at the meeting. It is no stretch of logic to assume that most students, upon reading that they have a mandatory meeting with the Dean of Students, will come to the conclusion that they are in trouble. Add in a passing mention of judicial charges and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that many students see the meeting more as punishment than relief.
So instead, begin the letters with a show of support. Make it clear that the meeting is urgent and mandatory, but also work to explain that PSUC is concerned for the well-being of its students and would like to offer any assistance that it can toward making sure each student’s time on campus is fulfilling and comfortable.
Any student who rejects the supportive letter would do the same to the current one, but the student who feels they have no one to turn to suddenly finds that someone is willing to sit down with them to discuss what brought them to that point and how to avoid feeling that way in the future.
Again, it’s true that while some students need friendly incentives to seek help, others need firm commands to shake them from their dangerous mindsets and ensure that they receive assistance. In both cases, though, a combination of encouragement and demand can work to guarantee that everyone finds a reason to continue with the program.
In the time since Cardinal Points found this topic, it was reported that individuals involved with the Lifeline program were considering reevaluating the letters in light of Greenberg’s concerns. Cardinal Points commends this decision and offers the above suggestions to consider during the review process.