Criticism regarding the treatment of students at Yale Mental Health and Counseling has justifiably mounted. The tragic suicide of a fellow student, as well as the personal experiences a brave few have expressed about Yale Health, highlight the institution’s shortcomings and other forms of mistreatment. The honest discourse revolving around recent events on this campus has raised many questions about where MH&C falls short in providing for students. Calls for more transparency, bigger budgets and a more qualified team of clinicians have sounded loudly, but what I haven’t seen is a critique of our role in making Yale a better place for those dealing with emotional battles.
“Thirteen Reasons,” a novel by Jay Asher, is told from the perspective of a girl who committed suicide and left behind 13 cassette tapes telling 13 different stories that influenced her decision to take her own life. Not every cassette tape tells the story of someone who bullied or hurt her, though those are in abundance. The people on the tapes are shocked to find that they played a role in her demise. The novel demonstrates the importance of prevention rather than reaction.
By the 13th tape, Hannah is intent on committing suicide and reaches out to her school guidance counselor as a last resort. She tells the counselor everything that’s been going through her head, and he offers to help her press charges against those who have hurt her. When she dismisses that idea, the counselor insensitively suggests she move on. Hannah walks away from the meeting more sure than ever that suicide is her best option and ends the tape with “thank you.”
Clearly the counselor failed her and was not trained for the gravity of Hannah’s situation. Yet the cassette tape that caught my attention most was the one where Hannah writes an anonymous letter to her class admitting that she has toyed with the idea of suicide. When the teacher opens the note up for discussion, her peers seem more annoyed than concerned. Her pain is an inconvenience for them. They have no idea who wrote the note, but they belittle her feelings all the same.
This was cassette seven, long before Hannah even decides to seek “professional” help. This rang true to me. Cassettes eight to 13 might never have happened had Hannah’s classmates took more notice and been more willing to help the author of the note.
Often we forget that we play a major role in how our peers feel. The counselor had only met with Hannah once. Those students in her classroom saw her every day. They were more privy to the signs of her depression. She wrote a note to them, albeit anonymously, and rather than lifting the anonymous plea and offering themselves as a shoulder, they dismissed the note as an unwanted interruption during their class period.
How often have you seen a friend who didn’t seem like themselves, but dismissed it because you had tech rehearsal that night and “ain’t nobody got time for that?” How many times did you do a double take at the girl yelling into her cell phone and not stop to ask if she was okay because “that’s none of your business?” How often do we ignore the signs until a suicide note is posted on Facebook? How often do we claim to care when really it’s a matter of caring when it’s too late?
MH&C has major adjustments to make in crafting more welcoming and efficient intake procedures, but first we must look into the mirror. Let’s remember to be aware of the part we have to play as well. Instead of exchanging half-hearted commitments to “grab lunch,” how about we form genuine relationships? Let’s stop letting our own worlds distract us from the people around us whom we love.
We must take time out of our busy schedules to study the signs of suicidal victims. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, some major warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include: making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless, a sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy, losing interest in things one used to care about, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, behaving recklessly, sleeping too little or too much and/or acting withdrawn.
It takes a village to create a healthy atmosphere where everyone can enjoy all Yale has to offer. Life is too short to play the blame game when that energy can go towards making meaningful changes for those around us. The smallest changes in you can be life-changing for someone else.
Brea Baker is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .