Suicide: Leading cause of death among college students
Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 22:03
When Robert Gerrick speaks in front of classes about suicide, he remains calm and collected. While rattling off facts, Gerrick, a counselor for CAPS, Counseling and Psychological Services, sounds objective and dispassionate. In reality, he is exercising a lot of self-control inside.
Suicide is all too familiar to Gerrick. When Gerrick was in college, his father killed himself.
Suicide is too common on college campuses across the country.
A study conducted by the University of Virginia surveying 157 universities and 1,361,304 students between the ages of 18 and 24 discovered the leading causes of mortality among college students.
The study, published in November 2011, revealed that suicide was the leading cause with a mortality rate of
6.18 per 100,000 students.
According to Jon Brunner, director of Counseling and Health Services, roughly 1,100 college students take their own lives every year, including three in the past two years at FGCU.
This rate is actually lower than that of the general population (12 per every 100,000 people).
“College students are generally healthier, so you don’t have a lot of the same things you would find in a general population study,” Brunner said.
Gerrick was home for winter break when he got the call at 8:05 p.m. Dec. 15 many years ago. The hospital told Gerrick that he had to come because there had been an incident. It wasn’t until he arrived and a doctor met him in the waiting room that Gerrick found out his father turned a gun on himself.
When Gerrick’s mother died during his freshman year of college, the responsibility of taking care of his two younger brothers fell on himself and his father.
In the years prior to his father’s suicide, the two had a conflicted relationship. A week before the suicide, Gerrick’s father approached his son at work and asked for him to move back home to help take care of his brothers.
“I told him no. I told him that he was responsible for taking care of them and that I wasn’t able to put up with his behavior,” Gerrick said. “He walked away somewhat angry, somewhat disappointed. That’s the last conversation I remember having with him.”
A storm of emotions overtook Gerrick after the loss of his father.
“Immediately afterwards, there’s a numbness. A disbelief. Almost like a denial stage when people go through a loss,” Gerrick said. “Then I got angry with my dad. I got angry with him being selfish and doing what he did. I got angry with myself because I truly believe that there was something more I could have done.”
After the initial shock and disbelief faded, the guilt persisted.
“I started thinking, ‘OK, well what if I had (moved back home). Why didn’t I?” Gerrick said.
“I played all these scenarios through my head thinking there was some way this could have been prevented and probably would have been prevented had I gone back to take care of my brothers.”
At that point, his brothers became his primary focus. He wondered where they would go and who would take care of them.
“The hardest part of that whole evening was driving home from the hospital and thinking how to explain this to my two younger brothers,” Gerrick said. “Their mom had died already, and now their dad kills himself. How do you explain that to a 9-year-old?”
Gerrick’s aunt and uncle took in his brothers after he decided the best thing to do was to go back to school when the next semester began.
Gerrick went to school during the week and drove to his aunt and uncle’s house on the weekends to spend time with and check up on his brothers.
It took Gerrick years to forgive himself and even longer to forgive his father. “The reality of it still comes back today because at times my youngest brother will ask me, ‘What were mom and dad like because I don’t remember?’” Gerrick said. “That’s what suicide has done to our family.” Still to this day, Gerrick reflects on his father’s suicide and tries to piece together what caused that chain of events.
“I’m sure between the alcohol, the holiday season, the lack of the integrity of the family, it all just provided a deadly mixture,” Gerrick said. “I learned that people have their own personal hell they are going through, and if they don’t have somebody to share it with, it remains a hell. That’s when that hopelessness creeps in. When people lose hope there’s not a whole lot left.”
Gerrick went to school to become a teacher. While teaching, he found himself gravitating toward helping others by volunteering with the needy or people who were very sick. He realized it was time to switch careers. “My father’s suicide really motivated me to be in the helping profession eventually, and this was one of the reasons to go into mental health counseling,” Gerrick said.
Even though he has slowly come to accept what happened, looking back on that night still proves difficult for Gerrick.
“For as long ago as that is, it’s still very painful. As much as I was estranged from my dad at the time, he was still a significant player in my life. Despite all the crap he did, I loved him, and that still hurts,” Gerrick said. “Even talking about it today, I can feel my eyes getting ready to tear up because it’s something I wish hadn’t happened.”
The tampered bobby pin couldn’t do the damage of a razor blade. But for Melissa Dorff, it was sharp enough to serve its purpose. A dancer for years, Dorff, a sophomore communication major, always used bobby pins for her hair, making it easy to conceal her true function for the usually harmless items.