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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Colleges tell students: Jump at your own risk

    Jessica Wertzcolumnist
    Jessica Wertz
    columnist

    Let’s face it: College students are going to commit suicide. Therefore, colleges should provide students who may be struggling with depression and/or suicidal ideas help and support. But instead, many colleges have chosen to focus on policies that relieve them of liability, ultimately hurting students in the process.

    Let’s compare and contrast using two real-life stories. Jed Satow was a sophomore at the UA when he took his life. In his memory, his family founded the Jed Foundation, which is now the leading organization focusing on suicide among college students.

    Thanks to people like the Satow family, the UA has very supportive policies regarding how to support a suicidal student, and it has an excellent confidential campus counseling center.

    Chuck Mahoney was also a college sophomore when he took his life. His family, however, decided to sue his college, Allegheny, for wrongful death. The family’s argument was that the college should have done more to save Chuck; namely, to alert them. And now Allegheny is strongly pushing its students to sign a waiver that would allow parents to be alerted of disturbing behavior.

    According to the Jed Foundation, 1,100 college students commit suicide a year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 18-24-year-olds. And the average suicide rate for the UA is one per year.

    As a result, colleges have found themselves in a precarious situation, seeing they are at high risk for a wrongful death lawsuit from such families affected by suicide.

    Ten wrongful death suits have been filed nationwide against colleges from families of suicidal students.

    Institutions have been found liable in the past for not locking up roofs from which students have jumped, for not enforcing alcohol and drug policies and for not catching the student’s suicide warning signs. Because of these lawsuits, college students’ rights have been stripped, and discrimination towards those with mental health issues has ensued.

    For example, the University of Illinois has implemented a mandatory treatment program in which students who attempts suicide or reports suicidal thoughts must attend or risk getting kicked out of school. Hunter College lists a suicide attempt as an evictable offense from their residence halls. George Washington tried to implement a policy whereby students seeking counseling on campus must sign a waiver allowing the administrators to be alerted in certain situations.

    For some of these students, college is the only thing left for them to live for. Furthermore, campus health facilities, which are convenient and inexpensive, may be the only form of help students are receiving. These resources will no longer be accessible for those students who are kicked out. Such policies let colleges off the hook, but they do nothing for the student.

    Something needs to be done to prevent colleges from stripping away students’ rights to privacy. … Students should not live in residence halls where suicide is an evictable offense.

    Most worrisome is the fact that students’ rights, as adults, to confidentiality are being eroded by these policies. A student will be wary of telling his innermost thoughts and emotions to a professional if he thinks his parents or the university administrators will find out.

    Something needs to be done to prevent colleges from stripping away students’ rights to privacy. During orientation, parents and students should attend an information session on national privacy laws. Students should not live in residence halls where suicide is an evictable offense.

    Campus counseling facilities should go over in detail with students that most information divulged in the session will be confidential and that no information presented in a counseling session will ever be given to parents or university administrators. No student should sign a waiver that permits the university to get their hands on such information.

    Also, parents need to stop suing colleges every chance they get. True, suicide is devastating for a parent, but trying to play the blame game only prolongs the grief. Courts need to stop finding colleges liable for having too tall of buildings from which students can jump.

    And above all, if you are suicidal, please get help. Call a hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE before making your final decision. Tell a trusted family member or friend and get professional help. Preventing suicide may be the only way to solve this problem.

    Jessica Wertz is a senior majoring in psychology and family studies and human development. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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