By Helen Mannion
Some people get tattoos when they’re drunk. Some get them because they’re popular. Others get tattoos to memorialize a lost friend or loved one.
That’s what Anna Friars, a sophomore music education and sacred music major at Westminster Choir College did after recently losing a close hometown friend to suicide. Friars’ friend was scheduled to audition at Westminster for admission next fall.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Rider’s last suicide of a current student was in November of 2002.
Students who are on their own for the first time may suffer from depression, which can lead to thoughts of suicide, according to Rose Soriero, a counselor and the Outreach Coordinator at Rider’s Lawrenceville campus Counseling Center.
“I think it’s part of what happens to college students who are on their own for the first time, dealing with new things they’ve never had to encounter before,” Soriero said. “Mom and Dad aren’t there to tell [students] when to get up, when to do their homework, when to have dinner or what time to go to bed. I think that contributes a lot to this age group.”
The typical age of a college student is 17 to 25, which is “a time of growth and development,” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell.
“During that period, we find the age of onset for mental illness because our brain is still developing,” he said. “It’s the age of onset for depression, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia.”
In some cases Soriero encounters, students who are thinking of committing suicide don’t want to die as much as they want the pain to stop.
“When someone is in that much pain and thinking of killing themselves as the only answer, the pain kind of prevents them from thinking ‘OK, what can I do to take care of this problem?’” Soriero said. “I think if they were thinking rationally and had the help that they need, they could probably think more rationally about what their options are.”
The use of drugs and alcohol is also a contributing factor to suicidal thoughts in an individual suffering from depression or mental illness, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
“When you mix depression with alcohol and drugs, it puts you at higher risk,” Campbell said.
Friars is currently doing everything she can to raise awareness about suicide prevention on campus by making and distributing yellow ribbons to her classmates. She has also set up a scholarship and a prevention walk in her hometown of West Deptford, N.J.
“No college student should have to bury a peer, no teacher should have to bury a student, no sister should ever have to bury her baby brother and no parents should ever have to bury their son,” Friars said. “I will fight for the rest of my life to prevent losing another loved one to suicide. It is something I never want to experience again, and something I don’t want to watch others experience either.”
In addition to everything else she has done, Friars has also gotten a tattoo on her wrist that reads “Loved,” with a music note forming the “d,” as a tribute to her friend. The tattoo was inspired by the “To Write Love On Her Arms” movement, which advocates “hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide,” according to its Web site.
“Aside from the events I can put on and the tattoos I can brand myself with, I have just been trying to tell people about [my friend] and the experiences I have been through since his death,” Friars said. “My hope is that I can reach out and touch the hearts of people who need it badly.”
Both Campbell and Soriero believe that talking to someone and getting help can prevent students from committing suicide.
“We’re lucky in that we’re a small school,” Campbell said. “Many people know each other. If you are having trouble facing the world, those are signs that you should talk to somebody.”
Soriero believes talking to a responsible adult, like an administrator, parent, professor, adviser, counselor or member of the clergy, can help, and maybe even prevent a student from feeling the need to take his or her own life.
Friars thinks colleges should stop being afraid of “glorifying suicide” and start working on prevention. She says too many schools and colleges in New Jersey are afraid to talk about suicide because they are afraid of giving someone the wrong idea.
“If schools would acknowledge the fact that suicide is a large issue we need to address, maybe students would receive a message they would not have thought about otherwise,” Friars said.
Friars is going to continue to strive to promote awareness, including showing off her tattoo.
“Who knows, maybe my tattoo will spark a conversation that saves someone’s life,” she said. “I like to believe I can help.”