Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Students & Tragedy

As a professor, odds probably are that one will encounter tragedy among his or her students.

Last semester, a former student died after a skateboarding accident.  I had gotten to know him because he was in my Urban Anthropology class where we go on fieldtrips and I have the chance to interact with the students more than in the classroom.  

Today, I found out that another of my students tried to commit suicide.  All I know is that she is in the hospital.  She is an excellent student - very intelligent and hard working.  She was also very active in our program, which is how I really have gotten to know her.  However, last semester she began to miss class and failed to complete her assignments.  Towards the end of the semester, she came to see me and explained that she had been having problems with depression.  I told her that the important thing before trying to make up the work she missed was for her to heal and get to a point where she was healthy enough to focus on her work.  She assured me that she was doing better and that she was looking forward to getting back on track in the Spring.

She was enrolled in one of my classes this semester.  She showed up to the first class, but then disappeared. Yesterday, after she missed yet again, I sent her a message saying that I was worried about her and that I hoped she was doing ok.  I let her know that I was available if she needed someone to talk to.  I also suggested that she consider withdrawing from school since it seemed that she needed time to deal with her medical issues.  I pointed out that there was no shame in this.  I ended by saying that I missed having her in class and the great contributions she always had to offer.

Then today, a colleague called me and told me the news.  I had feared that this might happen - it was not a strong fear or else I would have let someone at the college know, but it did cross my mind.  I then had a panicked thought, what if my email contributed to her actions?  My colleague assured me that she had been in the hospital since Monday.  My thought, as probably is the case in most of these situations, was why did I not reach out earlier?  While I know there was probably little I could have done, there is still the feeling of maybe I could have done something.  

When we had talked at the end of last semester, she had explained how she had found it hard to get help.  The college's services didn't seem adequate.  She had a therapist at home, but she had to pay for the sessions out of pocket and could not afford them.  Last, it seemed like her parents were against her getting psychiatric help.  I know first hand the frustration of not being able to get the help you need, whether because a lack of resources, the difficult access, or the stigma of getting help.  

I have no answers here.  Just sadness and a flickering hope that she gets better, receives the help she needs, and gets to a point where she can (and wants to) return to be in my classes and she can pick up where she left off - being one of those students that make teaching worthwhile.  

No comments: