1,100 Too Many: Shining Light on the Stigma of Suicide

A little less than a year ago, I was working on a homework
assignment in my college dorm room when my computer made the Facebook
notification noise. I had received an inbox message from an old friend—someone
I hadn’t spoken to in more than a year—asking me about a project he was working
on. I responded right away, and the two of us began joking around and making
small talk. When I asked him how he had been doing, his response caught me a
bit off guard. He told me he had been anxious about the future and confused
about his sexuality, even noting that he had been feeling suicidal.

After he told me this, the two of us had a rather long
conversation about each other’s lives. Eventually I had to leave to go work on
a paper for class, but I told him to call or shoot me a text if he wanted to
talk again.

About a week later, I discovered that my friend had
taken his own life. Less than 24 hours after our Facebook conversation, he had
committed suicide.

To simply call this individual an ‘old friend’ would be an
understatement. I’d first met him years ago, when we joined the same Boy Scout
troop. Back then we were both dorky, gangly teenage boys and we became instant
friends, spending every camping trip and troop meeting causing trouble and
goofing off together. As we got older and went through high school, we
gradually drifted apart, but still talked to each other from time to time. 

For someone who has never lost a friend or a family member
to suicide, it’s hard to explain the emotion that one experiences upon finding
out. I can only describe how I felt as a slow and painful whirlwind of shock,
disbelief, anger, frustration and sadness. The emotion that I felt the most of
all, though, was guilt.

Guilt that I could have—or should have—done something to stop
him. Guilt that my friend reached
out to me, and that I hadn’t been able to give him the help he needed. Guilt
that the world had lost an amazingly beautiful soul.

I understand why people don’t like to talk about suicide.
Perhaps more than any other subject, it makes people intensely uncomfortable
and uneasy. There is a certain stigma attached to suicide that makes people
want to act as if it doesn’t exist; that it’s not an important problem. After
the funeral for my friend, I tried to bury the whole ordeal deep inside me. I
wanted to forget about the suicide altogether.

On Thursday evening Mar. 5, dozens of students showed up outside of
Frary Dining Hall for an annual event seeking to bring awareness to the issue
of suicide. Students helped to light 1,100 candles, representing the number of
American college students who commit suicide every year.

When I went to the event, I took the opportunity to light a
candle for my friend. This occasion reminded me that it is not enough to just
remember all the happy times the two of us shared together—I must also remember
the suicide. By remembering his entire story and sharing my own experiences, I
hope to help others who have found themselves on either side of a similar

Eleven hundred college students committing suicide each year
is a tragically high statistic. If you don’t know someone who has actually
committed suicide, chances are that you or one of your friends here at college has
contemplated or even attempted it.

The truth is that college-age students like ourselves are
in an inherently vulnerable situation. For many of us, this is the first time living alone, away from our
families and loved ones. It is
easy to feel isolated and stressed in an environment like this. We are also at a point in our lives
where we are coming of age, trying to find a place in this complicated and
cruel world.

Working together, we have the ability to begin to change the
statistics. We can start by educating ourselves. Each of us should take the
time to learn more about suicide, depression and other mental health issues so
that we can be more prepared to handle these sorts of issues when they
invariably come up. And although
it may not always be your first inclination, if you or someone you know needs help, reaching out to someone at the Monsour Center (or even a trusted
professor or dean) could make all the difference.

But perhaps even more importantly, we must not be afraid of having a conversation. This means acknowledging the seriousness of suicide through an active discourse and building a community that is both empathetic and responsive.  My hope is that we can learn to be more open with one another—perhaps our stories, experiences, and emotions can allow us to better understand suicide, and honor the individuals whose lives have been tragically cut short.

Chance Kawar PZ ‘17 is
a political studies major from San Diego, Calif. He currently serves as
sophomore class president at Pitzer College.

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