Daily ip Trojan
Volume L <VIII, No. 20
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Tuesday, October \4, 1975
the loneliest death
By Dorothy Reinhold
By all outward appearances it was a normal October day, no better or worse than any other. But inside a tiny apartment in West Los Angeles a student was having his own personal crisis. One that would profoundly affect his life. One that could have ended it
“At that point in my life I was so depressed that I took out my gun, loaded it and put it to my mouth,” said
20-year-old Stan. “I held it there and thought about it for awhile, about what people would think when they heard I was dead.”
He didn’t pull the trigger—that time.
Another student, 19-year-old Carol, also fantasized about suicide.
“I would take a knife and stab it through my photograph,” she said. “Or I would look in my bathroom cabinet for some suitable pills to take, or I would take a knife out of the drawer and sit there playing with it, contemplating cutting myself.” (The names in this article are fictitious to protect the individuals’ anonymity.)
We all have self-destructive impulses. Few people go through life without thinking what it would be like to be dead; it is part of the human condition.
But to a significant number of students, the impulse to die a suicidal death may come frequently and easily. They have been there—almost—and returned, often with scars to prove it.
“One day while I was driving on the Harbor Freeway I had four different fantasies about suicide,” said Lynn, a junior here. “I saw myself being killed in a car wreck at four different places along the freeway.”
One or two USC students a year do kill themselves, said Anita Siegman, director of counseling services. They use means ranging from aspirin to slashing wrists to mixing alcohol and barbiturates. There are 20 to 30 more attempts a year and even more go unreported.
Siegman said the only suicides that are publicized are those of students who live in the dorms. “The others may be commuters or international students who live in apartments near the university so their only real connection to the campus is that they were taking some classes here,” she said.
Most suicide attempts are reported the following day by a faculty member or resident adviser who calls the counseling center after talking with the student, she said.
Siegman said some people had a legitimate reason to kill themselves, like an incurable cancer patient or a businessman during the 1929 market plunge.
But most students who consider suicide as a solution to their problems are going through a kind of common situational stress, Siegman said. They feel life is just not worth it.
“I wish someone would do something to make me happy, to make me feel,” Carol said. “I am desperate for someone to make my life better. I don’t feel I have a life. My future looks bleak. Am I supposed to have a life, a future?”
About three times as many females attempt suicide but more males complete the act, Siegman explained. “There’s a theory that women find it more acceptable to cry for help,” she said. “Men lock their feelings inside and they build up to the breaking point.
“A lot of people who attempt suicide are saying, in effect, I’m not sure I want to die, I just don’t want to live like this anymore’.”
Resident advisers or someone who lives closely with the student can sometimes detect behavior changes or clues that might indicate a potential suicide, Siegman said.
The person may eat less, spend more time sleeping, go for medical help (about three-fourths of those who attempt suicide have visited a physician in the four months preceding the attempt) or give away expensive equipment like stereos, televisions, radios and records.
Siegman said no one type of student is more susceptible to suicidal tendencies than another, but certain patterns of similarities do exist.
There are more commuters who attempt suicide than those who live in fraternities, sororities or dorms, she said. A single male, 25 or 26 years old, perhaps an international student— someone without a secure group of family and friends—is very susceptible.
“Depression and suicide go hand in hand,” Siegman said. “We see a lot of depression in premeds. The pressure is enormous for them, and if you split hairs over the A-minus or the B-plus, thoughts of suicide could be frequent.
“Those in library science and performing arts also seem especially susceptible because of the isolation of their fields. And even female athletes can be included because of the loneliness of competition and the stigma of the ‘female jock’.”
Sexual pressures and attitudes can also play a part in triggering suicidal thoughts, she said, as in the case of a
21-year-old male who has never had a sexual experience with a female and is approached by a gay.
“He may think he is a homosexual
and the thought so repulses him that he wants to kill himself,” Siegman said.
Carol found that just thinking about sex could make her depressed. “I like guys generally as people, but it all seems to be tied up in sex, which is something I cannot relate to,” she said.
“I have never been that sexually oriented. My negative feelings about sex overwhelm whatever relationship is developing. It is depressing because I don’t know if guys are all after one thing or if that is must my warped idea.”
Siegman said she did not like to directly accuse the university of causing suicidal feelings in people.
“This university has a high suicide rate compared to other colleges,” Siegman said. But she could give no explanation other than that the campus is in an urban area.
Carol said college really confused and upset her. “I panicked. I never knew when to start on all the things I had to do. I didn’t know how to study anymore, where to start on all the piles of work there was to be done. I was sick of school, of the whole atmosphere surrounding school.”
She dropped out after the first semester of her freshman year. Now she is taking one class and working part-time.
Siegman said the typical potential student suicide is a male who gets average grades, is alone (not communicating or socializing with others) and doesn’t want to let his parents down, because of their enormously high expectations.
“Or he may be a high achiever who doesn’t know how to play,” she said. “This campus is not conducive to a close-knit group feeling. A shy person is more vulnerable to the university’s pressure than an outgoing one.” Apparently the feeling, the fear of loneliness, is often a major cause of suicidal thoughts.
(continued on page 5)