Western Cares: Campus message from Bruce Shepard

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard sent the following message to the WWU community Tuesday, May 24:

I am writing to share with you the fact that, earlier today and according to police reports, a Western student acted in an apparent attempt to end his life.  The good news is that he was unsuccessful although his condition is serious.

Why should a president clutter your inbox with a message about a subject many would prefer not to talk about?  Precisely because it is a subject we too often avoid talking about.

I have written to campus before about this subject but we are a constantly changing community.  And, we are approaching a stressful time of the quarter.  So, I write again.

As uncomfortable as the topic may be, it is truly amazing how many of our lives have been or will be touched by suicide, attempted or actual, and the mental distress and disease that underlies it: family, friends, …. Suicide is endemic among those in the typical college-age group. Actually, less so among those in college than those of similar age who are not in college. But, still, at Western, we sometimes feel this pain.

Can we change that?

Having lost a son away at college to this epidemic, my answer is simple: We must!

Our reluctance to talk about such topics – suicide, depression, other mental distress and disease – was, I concluded, part of what can make ailments like depression the deadly diseases that they can be.

Because of the stigma surrounding such topics, people do not bring the manifestations of a usually VERY treatable problem to the attention of others. In my layman`s view, our brains are very powerful … but not always for good ends. Mental ailments can use that awesome brainpower, reinforced by fear of stigmas, to hide their very existence from the person with the ailment. Dire consequences can then result.

I took a vow, no matter how personally painful it was, to never be too embarrassed or afraid to talk about these subjects. Or, about my son.

That is step one and I encourage you to consider joining me in that vow: break the stigma surrounding these topics by being willing to discuss them just as you would any other ailment to which we beautifully complex human beings are sometimes vulnerable.

Step two is to reinforce a culture in which we care about each other. That is a hallmark of what it means to be Western. Do pay attention to signs that might indicate that a person you know may do harm to themselves. Or, to others. If you, yourself, are feeling at a loss with no solutions in sight, reach out for we will be there for you.

Step three logically follows: If you see a friend or associate manifesting problems, certainly speak to them if you are comfortable so doing. But, don`t stop there: alert those trained on our campus to provide help. Give the alert, share what you are comfortable sharing, and you may do so knowing that professionals will confidentially and sensitively proceed.

Whom do you call to pass on a "heads up"? Again, the Counseling Center can help at 650-3164. They are trained to assess and provide direction to faculty, staff, and students with referrals and, if appropriate, engagement of our suicide prevention team.  Other resources you can turn to are listed below.

We can, together, make a difference. Tragedies that do not happen do not make headlines. But, our campus, and every one of us, is safer and healthier because we do not duck this issue. Directly safer because of those tragedies averted. Healthier because of the values of community we commit to acting upon.

My best,

Additional Resources:
Western`s Counseling Center in Old Main 540, (360) 650-3164 during business hours;
To reach the after-hours on-call counselor, call (360) 650-3164 and choose option 1;
Western`s Student Health Center in the Campus Services Building, (360) 650-3400;
National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255;
Community Crisis Line (Volunteers of America 24 hour crisis line), 1-800-584-3578;
The Trevor Project (national 24-hour free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth), 1-866-488-7386.