“I’m going to make sure that his life will not be in vain,” Betsy Primos said in the wake of her son’s death.
Truett Primos, a former student at the University of Mississippi, killed himself in October 2017, and Mrs. Primos hopes other students can learn from his struggle and her heartache to better understand suicide.
“I’m going to fight with everything I have to try and reach any of his friends, hoping they can reach more friends, telling them that suicide is not an option ever, even if it means they get in trouble by some mistake or stupid decision they make,” Primos said.
Primos has turned to her Facebook page to share the story of Truett and to provide support in the form of encouraging words or virtual hugs for college students who are overcoming grief or are struggling themselves.
“It does hurt to talk about, but it needs to be addressed,” Primos said. “Truett’s death was a shock for all of us, and it left us with something that can’t be erased. You can adapt to the loss, but you can never erase it.”
Primos hopes that being open about her son’s death may prevent other suicides.
“In Truett’s case, this was not what he would have done had he known the heartache of so many friends,” Betsy Primos wrote. “I have many boys at the University of Mississippi that I love dearly, and girls as well. I would never want them to commit suicide because it impacts so many.”
The Ole Miss community has certainly felt this impact in the past. According to the Clery Daily Crime Log, the University Police Department has responded to 39 reports of attempted suicide since the beginning of 2013. Within the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity alone, two active members have died of suicide in the past year and a half.
Lauren McGraw, mother of former student Rivers McGraw, has also shared her son’s story in the two years since his death from suicide. Earlier this month, she brought Rivers’ backpack to the Send Silence Packing demonstration, which displayed 1,100 empty bags in the Grove to represent the number of college students lost to suicide each year.
“He shot himself after receiving his second DUI in 2016,” McGraw said in the Grove. “He got scared and didn’t think there was a way out, which is why it is so important to raise awareness at events like this. We need to talk. We need kids to be more open so they can know there is a way out.”
She said in her experience, people used to not often talk about suicide or mental health.
“Especially boys, who are taught to be tough and rough since they’re born. But I believe that things are going to change,” McGraw said. “That’s why I worked to have Rivers’ Law passed.”
Rivers’ Law is a law requiring parents be alerted if their child under 21 is arrested for drug or alcohol charges. It passed the House unanimously in February 2017 and was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant that April.
Although they are beneficial, laws and exhibits do not cure mental illness, nor do they bring children back to their mothers.
Both McGraw and Primos continue to deal with their own grief, as does the Ole Miss campus every time a student dies.
Darby Johnson, a community assistant working in Residence Hall 1, still remembers the day she was told one of her residents died by suicide in his dorm room two years ago.
She had seen the resident just days before his death but hadn’t noticed any warning signs.
“I don’t know how the other CAs and I would’ve caught it unless he was personally talking to us about his (struggles),” Johnson said. “He was a quiet kid, and I just remember he had headphones on and was coming back from a workout.”
Johnson said she feels like people are supposed to be able to recognize signs when someone needs help, but the signs weren’t evident in this case.
“He had no roommate, so it’s not like someone living with him could’ve helped us know sooner or to prevent it altogether,” Johnson said. “His mom called in a wellness check in the middle of the night, and then the police came, and that’s when we found out. The whole staff was so broken up about it.”
These aren’t isolated cases, though. Nearly 4,000 people age 15-24 die by suicide each year in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and 1 in 12 U.S. college students makes a suicide plan.
Resources on campus are continuing to grow. The counseling center is working toward accreditation, student groups such as Active Minds are raising awareness and students and faculty alike are beginning to speak more openly about issues of mental health and suicide. Mental wellness for everyone cannot be attained overnight, but the Ole Miss community is working toward that future.