Georgia Tech student: School must improve outreach and help for suicidal students

Duo-Wei Yang is a sophomore at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She majors in Computational Media (CM) and is a freelance reporter.

She has written a thoughtful piece about how Georgia Tech ought to look at the resources and supports it offers troubled students. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans 15-24 and 25-34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 2015 National College Health Assessment estimates 9.6 percent or nearly 2 million of  the 20 million students attending U.S. colleges and universities experience suicidal thoughts, 1.6 percent (320,000) makes a suicide attempt, and 7.5 per 100,000 college students (1,500) die by suicide each year.

By  Duo-Wei Yang

What unfolded Saturday evening was disturbing and horrifying. Thousands of us watched the video of the incident, and were left feeling unease and restlessness. However, the reason for Scout Schultz’s despair was not much of a surprise.

Suicide is practically a norm here. Every year, there’s usually two to three tragic cases. We’re not always officially informed by the school, usually for privacy for the family, but when we are, a certain phrase is repeated, largely in verbatim:

"We are committed to providing resources for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our entire campus community."

Is that really true? According to multiple students, not really.

Some have told me horror stories of continually setting up appointments at the counseling center, but never hearing back. Others were redirected to receive help outside of school. It can be frustratingly impossible to meet up with a counselor during certain parts of the semester.

This isn’t really what you want to hear when in you’re in need of help, fast.

We do need to acknowledge that the school has taken steps to improve. For example, some students have great experiences with the psychiatric services. Dorm windows can only open up to four inches or are completely sealed shut. Officers may take special notice of the Clough Commons rooftop when exam season is here.

However, the administration have not taken the initiative to actively prevent the suicide trend our school is known for.

Tech Ends Suicide Together is an initiative developed by the Georgia Tech Counseling Center and Division of Student Life.

They may argue the “Tech Ends Suicide Together” plan started last year is in effect. However, I didn't even know the contents until I spent a length of time searching for it. Furthermore, once I did, the initiative felt flimsy and half-baked.

The website’s homepage shows two short videos that lack any depth. One is a photo slideshow of students holding cheesy paper frames of “You’re not alone” written on it set to jangly music. The other is a discussion of the word “Ubuntu,” a humanist philosophy popularized by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

The “Toolkit” are a series of documents, such as flyers and worksheets, mainly made available for student groups to use. They do have their use, but their contents are generic and fail to be an easily accessible.

It would make far more sense to show features stories of Georgia Tech students that had problems with their mental health that dealt with it using school resources. Another video or graphic showing the statistics of how seeking help does make a difference would be another useful addition.

Our lack of technological aid in finding mental health resources is both bizarre and ironic. The Georgia Tech website does not have a system that allows you to book counseling appointments online and requires you to call or walk-in for services. The official Georgia Tech app only has phone number shortcuts and website links to the Georgia Tech police and Counseling Center.

The official Georgia Tech app could also a useful tool to access resources or seek aid. Despite being a technology institute, all the app has are phone numbers and website links to the Georgia Tech police and Counseling Center. It would not be too difficult to add features that would allow you to book counseling or health service appointments on the app.

Although Georgia Tech may not be the only institution guilty of this, there seems to be a trend among our school administrators to pay lip service. They acknowledge the problems of mental health on campus, then rinse and repeat.

We understand that the school is not completely responsible for our lives. However, there is a disheartening lack of decisive action from the administration.

Regardless of your opinions on Saturday night, if there was more effort from Georgia Tech to reach out to students effectively, we might not have to wonder about “what-ifs” as much as we do now.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.