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An open letter to President Crawford about depression

Dear President Crawford,

It creeps up on you. At first, you think the irritability will go away with a good night's rest. You say to yourself that "you're just in a mood." But after a while you notice it. There is a slight change in your personality. You don't want to be around people as much anymore. The tiniest mistakes upset you. Maybe you can't focus as well, your eating habits change, or all you want to do is sleep. Then all of sudden, when you least expect it, it cascades over you. You feel completely alone when you're surrounded by people. Every day is a marathon and every failure is such an earth-shattering experience that you start to forget the purpose of life. You constantly feel anxious, losing all confidence and happiness in what you're doing. It dominates everything. You're drowning within yourself. This is what it can feel like to experience depression.

Two weeks ago, a female student committed suicide at the University of Pennsylvania and became the 10th student to take his or her own life in three years at that institution. On April 13, a University of Texas student killed himself by inhaling gasoline. An Oberlin College, only a couple hours from Oxford, a transgender student took her own life, on her 21st birthday, last month. All three had expressed feelings of over-stress, depression, or other signs of mental illness.

According to research conducted by Emory University, there are more than 1,000 college student suicides each year in the U.S. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 7 percent of college students consider taking their life and that one in four people from the age of 18 to 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. In 2012, Miami University Student Health Services conducted a study and found that 20 percent of Miami students had signs of depression and another 14 percent had signs of anxiety.

But this is about more than just facts and figures; this is about human life.

Last October, The Miami Student published a story about sophomore Jack Yungblut, who attempted suicide the first week of classes and, luckily, did not succeed in ending his life.

"But I don't want other people to have to rely on luck. I should've gotten help a long time ago, and I didn't...so my life for the foreseeable future is hard because of it," said Yungblut in an interview with Emily Tate, a Student staffer.

This semester, the Miami community lost two students. MinGi Kang died March 25 after he climbed the tower behind Williams Hall. Tim Fresch, whose friends said he had dealt with depression, died April 13 after being found unconscious in his home. I can't pretend to know about Yungblut's life or whether mental health issues played directly into the more recent deaths. (The official cause of death in the latter two cases has yet to be released.) But I do know that some students at Miami are in distress. And they need attention. And people seem to be scared to talk about mental illness on our campus, including the administration. Why? Are we scared to admit, that even here at Miami, people are unhappy? The silence is deafening.

Experts constantly talk about the warning signs of mental illnesses. But understanding the signs doesn't necessarily compel a person to seek help. Maybe they feel ashamed to admit something is wrong, that maybe they need help. Maybe they feel owning up to a mental health issue reflects a weakness or that no one will understand. Maybe they are worried others will just think they are crazy. That's what I thought too. Until October when I reached a breaking point and decided to get help.

In the earlier Miami study, researchers found that Miami students were much more aware of the public stigma around mental health compared to the national average. That helps explain a culture on campus where people seem embarrassed to admit that something is wrong and fearful they'll be labeled weak or crazy. This is what keeps people from getting the treatment they need. We, as a community, need to decide that this is not OK.

It shouldn't take student death to generate a thoughtful and serious conversation about mental health. By the time someone takes his or her own life, it is too late.

President Crawford, I ask that within your first year as president, you create a committee tasked with finding ways to better support mental health. People may expect for you to focus on other issues first, but this is a very relevant and serious problem on our campus that needs to be addressed before more tragedies occur. It cannot be ignored anymore.

Sincerely,

Maggie Callaghan

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