Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24. It touches every corner of our country, and Fort Collins is no exception.
Within the past month, CSU lost two members of the student body.
Sometimes, the death of someone close can blindside us, according to Breelle Hilsenrath, freshman sociology major, who lost a close friend when she was in high school.
“When you’re (young), you think you’re immortal. You think nothing can touch you,” Hilsenrath said. “People my age actually die.”
Staying silent about the issue does not address the sense of loss, according to Chryss Cada, a professor in the journalism department.
“I talk about suicide whenever I can because I don’t think enough people do,” Cada said.
Cada lost her older brother to suicide when she was just twelve years old. She found herself approached by her older brother’s friends, some of whom were also experiencing depression.
“It totally levels you,” Cada said. “(People) don’t understand the finality of it.”
Tanida Ruampant, a two-time CSU alumna who completed her bachelor’s in 2001 and master’s in 2010, lost her brother to suicide as well.
All three women survived losing their loved ones, but they have not forgotten how difficult it was, especially at first.
“I think about (my friend) every day,” Hilsenrath said. “It’s been four years since she’s been gone.”
For others, such as Ruampant, the time has been nearly a decade and yet the memories and sense of loss remain.
“Every time I hear of a young person’s suicide, I am reminded of my own situation. I am brought back to the hours, days and weeks that followed my brother’s death and how lost I felt,” Ruampant said. “Each year, we celebrate his life and his death. Every day, we remember.”
When a person dies, there are countless individuals touched by the loss. Hilsenrath remembered how her family and friends, siblings and teachers experienced the loss of her 15-year-old friend.
No matter how distant or how profound a relationship may be, everyone has a right to those feelings of loss and sadness, Cada said.
College can be overwhelming and stressful but there is always someone around to talk to — a professional, a friend, even a professor.
“People would miss you,” Cada said, referring to students who may consider suicide. “I care about you. I would care if you weren’t here tomorrow.”
At CSU, each student is provided five counseling sessions through student fees. There are options for group and individual sessions. Scheduling just takes one phone call to the office.
It can be easy to walk by the same person every day without noticing, but it is important to reach out to people, according to Cada. For her, being aware of what’s going on around you and taking small efforts can make all the difference.
“If everyone takes the time to get to know their students or the person sitting next them, it makes a huge difference,” Cada said. “You can save their life. As people, we can do that.”
When a friend is lost before their time, there are still ways to cope. Hilsenrath explained that there are ways to honor the dead without necessarily mourning.
Hilsenrath, her friends and family remember their deceased friend by tying notes to balloons and releasing them, discussing fond memories and by sending messages to her memorial Facebook page. She is gone, but not forgotten.
The others are also remembered on a frequent, if not daily, basis.
Grief takes time to pass, but it is not permanent.
“I’m okay now, but it took a long time,” Cada said.
Many who have been touched by death are willing to talk about it and encourage questions, such as Ruampant.
“I am proud to speak of my brother. I am no longer ashamed to talk about how he died and I am okay saying that I don’t know why,” Ruampant said. “What is hard is that I don’t want people to feel bad for me or feel ashamed for asking more questions. I wish some people would.”
Death will touch us all at some point and sometimes that death is a suicide. Although the hole left behind can never be completely mended, it can be filled with memories.
“It’s still sad, but it’s a good lesson,” Hilsenrath said. “She taught me a lot in those few years that she was alive. I try to be thankful for the time we had instead of wishing for more of it.”
“Keep their memory alive,” Ruampant said. “Whether that means sharing stories, holding on to a memento, or having their picture somewhere — don’t let them be forgotten.”
Collegian Senior Reporter Mariah Wenzel can be reached at email@example.com. For more content follow her on Twitter @mariahcwenzel.