Campus clinic offers help for students

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Jon Keill knows what it is like to feel miserable, to feel like no one understands.

“I always feel so alone and ? isolated, away from everyone else,” the 20-year-old Sioux Falls native said. “People do understand me to an extent, but I still feel like something is missing from my being. I feel it physically, mentally, physiologically and spiritually. I don’t feel whole, and I don’t know what could make me whole.”

Throughout his life, Keill has struggled with genetic depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He has suffered through self-consciousness, and due to extreme perfectionism, he said he has always been “crushed” by criticism.

These conditions can intensify when he is by himself.

“When I’m alone, usually at night, I get a lot slower, and I get moodier. I just kind of shut down,” Keill said. “Sometimes I feel like two different people: the day Jon, who is fun to be with, but if I’m alone by myself, I’m sad, apathetic, very lazy and unmotivated to do something.”

During his worst years in middle school, Keill often considered ending it all, because he thought these emotions and his moods were damaging his friends and family.

“I was so miserable about everything ? that I felt I was affecting other people,” he said.

“I figured [committing suicide] would improve the lives of people around me.”

Today, the senior geography major is “doing a lot better.” Medication and the positive people in his life have helped him achieve a better outlook, and though he said he still thinks about suicide every day, Keill no longer has “the desire to attempt it.”

Debra Johnson, the clinical counseling supervisor of the Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services, said thoughts and feelings like Keill’s are not uncommon. Suicidal thoughts affect all categories and all types of people, she said.

Keill agreed. “Basically everyone at some point does consider it, whether they’re serious or not,” he said. “For many people, it’s crossed their minds, but they realize it’s a bad idea.”

The problem, though, is that suicide completions among college students are not entirely rare, either. After elderly populations, college age youths are the next most likely age group to commit suicide, said Johnson.

According to the South Dakota Suicide Prevention Web site, the death rate of people ages 15 to 24 is twice as high in South Dakota than it is on average throughout the U.S., and suicide is the second-leading cause of death in South Dakota for people 15 to 34, regardless of sex or race. At SDSU, the University Police Department reported two suicide threats and Student Affairs confirmed one completed suicide for the weekend of Sept. 12 to 14.

Marysz Rames, vice president of student affairs, said incidents like these remind SDSU community members that some students might be going through difficult times and may need someone to reach out to.

“It shows us how important it is to help someone out,” said Rames.

“Sometimes we get caught up in our own issues so we don’t reach out as much to others.”

Johnson said students who complete or attempt suicide could be dealing with a wide range of problems. The leading cause of suicide death is depression, which can occur because of genetics, stress or biological changes or conditions like diabetes, she said. Symptoms of depression are mood changes, a lowering of self-esteem, losing interest in things that used to be important, possible suicidal thoughts, fatigue, sleeping too much or too little and a general sense of hopelessness.

Other causes of suicide can be an inability to cope with a problem or stress, physical and emotional pain and negative life experiences. Johnson said consuming alcohol or drugs while dealing with these issues could also lead people to do things that they might not have done otherwise.

“With impaired judgments, people make quick decisions that are final,” she said.

Just as there are several causes for suicide, there are many signs that people should pay attention to. Johnson said to monitor people that comment on final events, such as saying, “I won’t be here next week,” write a will or put their affairs in order, give away prized possessions, are depressed or have suffered a great loss, such as the loss of a relationship or a life dream.

Johnson also said when people talk about committing suicide, do not ignore them or think they are just joking around. Always assume they are serious, and talk to them about the issue. Suicides are prevented all the time, said Johnson, so do not assume that once people have decided to commit suicide that they cannot be saved.

Keill said he wishes more people would pay attention to these signs and be more understanding towards depressed and suicidal people.

“Empathy is a big thing for people who think about suicide. They want people to understand what it’s like, what it feels like,” he said.

On the other side, for those who have suicidal thoughts, Keill said they should spend time with people who truly care for them and have their best interests in mind.

“Surround yourself with people who have a positive impact in your life. If people are making you miserable, then maybe they are someone you should grow apart from,” he said.

“My friends motivate me and told me I could be somebody. The friends the closest to me are the ones I owe everything to.”

Vice President Rames said those students who have suicidal thoughts or who are survivors of suicide have the support of both campus resources, such as Student Health and Counseling Services, and the religious community of Brookings.

“If a student wants to visit with them, all their resources are available to them,” she said.

Student Health offers confidential counseling free of cost to students. The clinic can be reached at 688-6146.

Keill also offered his help. “If people don’t feel comfortable talking to counselors on campus, I want anyone – I don’t care who they – to know they can contact me. I’m there to help them, too.”