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About two weeks ago, I found out through Instagram that a friend had committed suicide.
I was in Orlando, at Universal Studios, a place where families were laughing. Lights flashed. Kids screamed. Fireworks burst in the air. How could they all be so joyous during a time like this? I walked around the theme park in a daze. I’d felt as if I was watching the world spin around me through a looking glass. My mind and heart had become numb.
A few days ago, I was hit the hardest with coming to terms with his death. The warm hugs, how he was fully engaged when you talked to him (but there was always someone stopping by to greet him mid-conversation), the belly laugh, his signature black hoodie—all of his vivid characteristics had lost color in my mind, yet they didn’t lose meaning. Prior to his death, I’d seen Jay, and there was no way to gauge the pain that he was enduring. Jay was his usual self, smiling and cracking jokes. He was the Jay we’d all come to know and love. As I search for answers and clarity during such a time, I take time to reflect on my own actions in my friendships.
Jay’s suicide was a double wake-up call, for my friends and me. It prompted me to start conversations with friends about mental health, discussing the solutions or new ideas we can implement into the school day, such as weekly self-evaluations with counselors or being allowed to take mental health days, without the consequences of having “unexcused absences” and risk failing a class. I’ve come to realize, in times of vulnerability during panic attacks or depression spells, I have to step out of my own head. I have to realize that I am not the only person that may be feeling this way. When is the last time I’ve talked to that friend I know who struggles? Have I checked on the person I know easily falls into dark spaces? When’s the last time I texted my friend who’s frequently trying to battle anxiety? I had to sit down with myself and ask, am I a good friend? My honest answer was no. As a friend, it is my responsibility to reach out to those close to me, especially the ones coping with their mental health. I try to text one friend at least once a week, just to see how they’re doing. As long as I get a response, I’m content. If I don’t get a response, I contact the mutuals of that friend, until I get an answer. This past semester, I have felt an overwhelming amount of support from my friends, who indeed do check on me, as I battle with panic attacks and psoriatic arthritis. I have two friends, who consistently pick me up to grab a bite to eat and just talk. They are always there when I need them. I am forever grateful for all they’ve done. But for Jay, he didn’t have this support system. For most students, they don’t have this support system.
In recent weeks, before and after Jay’s suicide, there have been petitions created at my college, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), in order to raise awareness for suicide prevention and improved mental health services. I immediately signed the petition after it surfaced online. But in response, SCAD claimed that the “safety” of the students was a “priority” for the university. I call BS. Currently, at the SCAD Atlanta campus, there are no mental health counselors on-campus. There is no outlet for those contemplating suicide, suffering through panic attacks and depression during finals, nor a safe space for students to simply vent about life’s stresses. There are more people caught in the web of being friendless and having to resort to isolating themselves because a campus that makes millions of dollars every year chooses to use their funds for new pools and bike rentals. It is incredibly hard to make friends, build relationships, and socialize when we are limited to our classrooms and the library as a way to seek human contact.
As a senior, I’ve noticed the number of social events dwindle each year for upperclassmen, a harsh contrast from freshman year—where we were required to fill out a “passport” of stamps that encouraged us to attend weekly activities until the end of the quarter. At the time, the passport assignment seemed like a burden, but really, it was a blessing. I met some of the greatest people and learned lessons during these passport events, ones about time and stress management. Now, without our passports, we are confined to our classrooms and bedrooms, maybe never even speaking to someone that day. (Since moving off-campus, I have found it even harder to connect with others, due to the lack of campus-wide events. SCAD could care less about their off-campus students.)
It is important to check on your friends. It is even more important to check in on yourself. As heartbreaking as it is for those survived by a suicide, it is impossible to imagine the suffocation Jay experienced before he committed suicide. If you see someone sitting alone, I encourage you to sit with them, because you may have just brightened their day. They may not feel like such an outcast anymore. But, is it not just about sitting at tables. We need to use our voices to speak for those like Jay, as he is voiceless. Those survived by him need to come forward and fight for not only a change in our school system but on a national level and how the government handles mental health.
I am survived by Jay, and I will use my voice for him and those who felt as if the world was crumbling at their feet.