Suicide


Today's U. S. Senate session was extraordinarily moving. Legislation has been introduced to deal with the suicide problem, especially among youths. The son of Senator Gordon Smith (R., Oregon) had just committed suicide, a tragedy which he reported in a restrained way. He was followed by Senator Harry Reid (D. Nevada), who for the first time in public told how his father committed suicide. He was almost crying. He said that there are over 30,000 known suicides each year in the US, and many accidents are also presumably suicides. Some 3,000 youths each year commit suicide. Nevada leads the nation in suicide. He did not mention the obvious causes: gambling and divorce. The Don Nickles (R., Oklahoma) reported that his father committed suicide. The aim of the proposed legislation is to fund counseling, especially for youths, but this does not deal with the main causes: The raucousness of campus life disguises the fact that many students are profoundly lonely, and the nauseating spectacle of binge drinking barely hides it. The problem is especially acute in the case of students from broken families. In the old days, universities were supposed to act in loco parentis, but that concept was foolishly dropped. It may be difficult to practice in state universities with monster enrollments, but at Stanford, where there are many small classes, it should be feasible. I regularly invited students to our campus home, and they were grateful. That practice seems to have declined, party due to the fact that many faculty wives now work. Enlightenment may be misplaced. When Swedish-born Sissela Bok married Stanford alumnus, Harvard President Derek Bok, she is said to have insisted that she would not do the normally expected things, including presumably acting in loco parentis.. Was this the Swede in her? Sweden has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. There should be a worldwide study of suicide, especially among youths.

Not only must faculty advisers pay more attention to students as individuals, the students must look to their advisers for counsel. Years ago the Stanford administration urged faculty to keep their office hours and thus be available to students. We did, but few students showed up- I used to ask students how often they saw their advisers. The common answer was "About once a quarter, to have him sign my course list". The situation is likely to get worse. A sign of the sickness of our times is that the states are using gambling to raise money, and many Indian tribes are being given gambling licences. This will encourage gambling addiction, which, together with binge drinking, is a deadly combination. I assume that Stanford and other universities are following this situation closely and that they are in touch with our legislators about the proposed legislation, which however I fear will have limited effect.

Senator Reid pointed out that until recently the Church regarded suicide as a sin, and those who committed it were often refused Christian burial. That has changed. The Methodist minister from Tonga, Saia Faasisiila. who takes care of us reports that his church here has just started a program of youth counselling. Stanford has a whole legion of some thirty religious leaders led by Scotty McLennan. Last on the list of faiths alphabetically but probably first chronologically is Zoroastianism.. There are indeed some Zoroastrians at Stanford, and they do well academically. How much student counseling does this host of leaders of the faithful do? They may differ theologically, but all must be concerned with the spiritual and mental health of students.

 

Ronald Hilton -


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