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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Doctor talks on suicide

Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for 15 to 19 year olds. Within the next 24 hours, 1439 teenagers will attempt to kill themselves.

Dr. Steven Atkins, a psychiatrist at Dartmouth Medical School, used these statistics near the beginning of a talk at Sigma Nu fraternity last night to emphasize just how common suicides are among college-age students.

The talk was held in memory of Sigma Nu member Daryl Richmond '04, who committed suicide at home in Reno, Nev., on Feb. 19.

Atkins listed common risk factors for suicide, gave advice to students on how to counsel potentially suicidal friends and noted some "protective factors" that help keep individuals from being consumed by depression.

His talk was peppered with anecdotes, including stories about Atkins' childhood in the South and his work at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Above all, he encouraged students to listen carefully to depressed friends.

Atkins compared listening to fishing. Making a friend try to feel better too quickly is equivalent to moving around too much when fishing, but effective listeners will stand still and steady, as do the most disciplined fishermen.

Similarly, he pushed students suffering from feelings of depression to reach out to those closest to them. He noted that it is particularly unfortunate that males in our culture are discouraged from expressing emotions other than silliness, anger or aggression.

Whether or not someone has made a past suicide attempt is the strongest predictor of eventual suicide, Atkins said.

Common signs of clinical depression include difficulty sleeping, apathy, pervasive feelings of guilt, lethargy and physical agitation.

Discussion after Atkins' presentation centered on the resources available to students suffering from depression.

One female student brought up the problems associated with seeking help at Dartmouth, noting that "the system is not working."

She said that some students go to Dick's House for help but are subsequently sent home on medical leave, lose their blitz accounts and wind up effectively cut off from the Dartmouth community. A few others around the room nodded their heads, seemingly acknowledging the existence of the problem.

Atkins replied that the Dick's House system seemed to him to work fairly well, and that many students are sent home because they are experiencing serious medical problems. Still, he encouraged any students who are concerned about this issue to approach Mark Reed, director of counseling and human development at Dick's House.

Approximately 40 people attended, the vast majority of whom were students. Many in attendance wore Greek letters.