This semester, there have been two reports of attempted suicide, according to the University Police Department Clery Daily Crime Log.
“It’s just such an awful thing to happen with a student, and certainly with their families, with their friends and the campus community in general,” Juawice McCormick, the interim director of the University Counseling Center, said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult things in the world to understand.”
McCormick said if a student at the University of Mississippi committed suicide, the counseling center partners with the University Police Department, UMatter — a program that coordinates “support efforts both on and off campus to assist students facing challenges in order to promote personal and academic success” — along with student housing, student health and the dean of students, who all have a plan in place to provide support for students, faculty and staff.
“When a student or faculty member dies or commits suicide, everyone’s impacted,” McCormick said.
McCormick said the counselors of the counseling center — including herself — would make themselves available to meet with those personally affected by the death upon request.
“For instance, if we have a student that kills themselves, and they’re a resident of a hall on campus, like RH1, we make sure that we’re available to go there at the request of housing and provide supportive counseling and response, or we make it known that we’re available here,” McCormick said. “Some students really don’t want or need you immediately afterward. They may want you two or three days later, so we try to put the message out that the counseling center staff are available in whatever fashion that students want us to be. If you want us to be on-site, we’ll do that. If you want to come here, we’re available to you.”
McCormick said she believes the counseling center has a good and coordinated response in place so they’ll be ready to work anytime something comes up. According to McCormick, even when there’s no death or crisis, if a counselor knows a student is in distress, they would be able to call other resources on campus and get more details on what services they provide.
“Because of confidentiality, I can’t ask for a student, but I can then turn back to a student and say, ‘Okay, if you go to UMatter, go ask for this person. They don’t know you’re coming, but here’s what they can do,’” McCormick said. “We don’t ever violate confidentiality unless there’s a risk that someone’s going to commit suicide, or they’re going to harm someone else. But when a student needs something, we can certainly make sure we know the resources available and be able to share those with the student.”
The counseling center has 10 full-time clinicians. So far this semester, the counseling center has seen 609 students. Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, the counseling center saw 841 students, and throughout the 2019-2020 school year the counseling center saw 912 students.
“I think we have had a huge increase. We’ve had an increase in the depth and breadth of issues due to a lot more grief and loss,” McCormick said. “We’ve had an increase in incidences of students seeking treatment for substance abuse. Depression and anxiety are always a constant (reason for students seeking counseling).”
McCormick said the counseling center is working to make sure all the students who request counseling are seen and helped.
“Sometimes, people cancel (their appointments),” McCormick said. “We look at trying to get in touch with people who are waiting for an appointment and say, ‘We’ve got a cancellation. Can you come in tomorrow?’”
The counseling center does not have a waitlist as of Nov. 30, which according to McCormick is unheard of.
The subject of mental health, and suicide specifically, does not just pertain to UM. Following two deaths by suicide within 48 hours in September at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote in a message to students on Oct. 10 announcing that classes would be canceled on Oct. 12 — World Mental Health Day — so students could have a “wellness day.” Guskiewicz encouraged students to rest and check in on each other during their wellness day.
“We are in the middle of a mental health crisis, both on our campus and across our nation, and we are aware that college-aged students carry an increased risk of suicide,” Guskiewicz wrote. “This crisis has directly impacted members of our community — especially with the passing of two students on campus in the past month. As chancellor, a professor and a parent, my heart breaks for all those whose suffering goes unnoticed.”
B.B. Behera, a sophomore biology major at UNC, said she did not believe UNC did a good job of handling the situation. While UNC did cancel classes for the day, Behera said she did not believe students got a real break.
“There were exams shortly after that one-day break and students never really got the ability to grieve,” Behera said. “Coming back to classes on Monday was disorienting.”
Behera said she wanted UNC to show they cared for the students’ mental health and do more to improve mental health on campus.
“Canceling classes for one day and then moving on as if these events never happened is not okay. The reality is that mental health can be impacted by many things, however, the stress of classes on top of dealing with these events was unnecessary,” Behera said. “All of the events after the death of our peers — such as the memorial and the vigil — were held by students, not UNC administration itself. We want more funding, more diversity and better resources for mental health.”
The struggles facing UNC are shared in universities around the nation, including the University of Mississippi.
“We’re all invested in the welfare and students being able to have a fruitful and productive and supportive time while they’re here, at the same time recognizing that you’re an adult, too,” McCormick said. “(We’re) trying to foster that, and then also extending support as needed.”