Two UM students who died in train accidents spark a discussion about mental health in the campus community

Trigger warning: suicide

On December 10 and 14, two University of Michigan students were killed in train accidents that local officials said were suicides.

In the first accident, a 19-year-old woman was struck by an Amtrak train in Ann Arbor along the Gallup Park trail. The conductor tried to stop the train and blew the horn before the accident.

In the second accident, a 25-year-old man was hit by a train in the municipality of Scio, about ten kilometers from campus.

These tragedies have prompted members of the university community to examine their role in promoting the mental health of students as the pandemic and the stresses it brings add to the mental crisis, particularly among adolescents.

The university provides counseling services and support to those close to the students involved in the accident, including roommates, dorm coordinators, cohorts, fellow students, colleagues, and more. Tod Sevig, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), spoke to The Michigan Daily about the loss of both students. He said it is important to remind community members that every student is valued and important to the UM community.

“Every student is important to so many other students, and it affects so many people,” said Sevig. “Our life matters and when we lose a student it affects so many other students – it affects all of us in the community.”

Student Dean Laura Jones also spoke to The Daily about the services that are close to the students. She said the university tailors its support for each specific situation.

“When we have such losses in the community, especially the loss of a student, it’s a really difficult thing to do and we know people have cravings for information,” Jones said. “Our primary responsibility at a moment like this is first and foremost to work with the deceased student’s families and then with the loved ones who are closest to the student, and that varies depending on the circumstances.”

Jones added that part of this outreach will include meetings and debriefings held with students, faculty, and staff to discuss the incident and resources for further assistance. Jones said this was an important part of the healing process and stressed that these resources were being offered to those close to the students who passed away last week.

“In many cases these meetings are held and moderated jointly by CAPS and the Dean of Studies, and I firmly believe that they are really part of everyone’s healing process,” said Jones. “It’s hard, but the students and the families were able to exchange ideas and stories and the parents of the families heard what came out of it.”

Sevig elaborated on the role of the university in this process and explained the importance of what he called “postvention”.

“We talk a lot about prevention at university, but that’s actually part of what we call post-prevention, and that’s how we help different individuals and communities to find their way around, to recognize one another, to come together, to support one another,” said Sevig. “It’s actually very shocking to hear that we’ve lost a student – be it a friend, a student or a family member. So all of these post-treatment activities are helpful in helping communities come together and heal. “

On December 7th, the US Surgeon General issued a recommendation to recognize the mental health problems and critical status of the mental health of adolescents in America. The counseling will address how individuals can better support the mental health and wellbeing of young people, including the provision of high quality and personalized mental health care and increased data collection and research to better identify mental health needs.

Jones said the university is aware of mental health issues across campus and is focused on continuing to support students, faculty and staff, especially after the advice is issued.

“The next phase of this work is to bring even more students into the eight work teams we’ve put together,” said Jones. “It’s a huge undertaking, but I hope that five years from now, when we look back, this has been a transformative moment in the history of our mental health work at the University of Michigan that is changing and changing our community as we go evolved over time. “.”

Sevig also added that graduation week may be another factor causing more stress in students, exacerbated by the transition back to classroom teaching, rising COVID-19 cases and the recent Oxford High School shootings.

“It’s actually a very stressful time, but a very stressful and fearful semester is yet to come,” said Sevig. “It was wonderful to be back on campus, slowly returning to normal, but there was also a phenomenon where many students felt like it had been a very tough, difficult semester. The transition back was difficult. And it’s not just five finals or final weeks per se. It’s the climax of this tough semester, in which there wasn’t a lot of resilience or additional energy in the tank. People get tired easier and faster. “

Sevig then discussed some of the resources his office will provide during the winter break.

“There are a lot of resources available throughout the break,” said Sevig. “Another part of the final week is the anticipation of getting home, which is not as easy as it sounds for every student. In mental health, the big theme of our work is creating different resources for different types of students at different times of the year. “

Several student-run organizations on campus also provide mental health resources to the campus community, such as the Wolverine Support Network (WSN), which hosts weekly peer-led support groups for undergraduate and graduate students at the university, and hEARt Listens, a hotline that serves as a line of peer support text.

LSA senior Nick Brdar, WSN executive director, said the organization is providing students with a space to talk to their peers in open spaces.

“These groups are a place for all UM students who come during their busy weeks to spend just an hour examining themselves and others,” Brdar said. “We find that peer support is so simple, but also so radical, because we very rarely find spaces in which we can authentically and anonymously be our vulnerable selves.”

Over the next semester, Brdar hopes WSN will continue to grow and plans to further reach the student body through partnerships with other organizations and awareness-raising events.

“Growth in general is always a focus for WSN, and we always try to grow the organization because we know that peer-to-peer support is so valuable,” said Brdar. “We want to reach as many students as possible. Especially students who have suffered losses, especially these recent losses. We want them to know that we are always a resource for them. “

LSA Junior Nidhi Tigadi, president of hEARt Listens, said that hEARt Listens should serve as a supportive way of speaking to someone anonymously.

“The hope is that the person who wrote to them feels a little better at the end of the conversation,” said Tigadi. “You don’t necessarily have to be in a crisis to want to have a conversation – the hEARtline is really there for everything from a hard day at school to COVID or the media, which can be very overwhelming or lonely.”

The university has worked to expand mental health services, including the CAPS office, which has been expanded to include anonymous online support and communities.

In September, the university also adopted the Okanagan Charter, an international charter to promote physical and mental health on campus.

Jones stated that the university has been working on initiatives across campus to provide more resources and support for students, faculty, and staff who may be struggling with mental health issues.

“Before these tragic situations occurred, last year we thought about how we could improve, improve, refine and make all of our interventions more holistic in order to avoid psychological problems in the students,” said Jones. “This is a huge undertaking and the way we are doing it is that we are taking this whole culture shift approach to becoming a health promoting university and really making sure that we are working to educate ourselves all so that we can have more. “Compassionate conversations, to reflect on one another and to care for one another, to understand one another in a time when our society is more polarized than ever.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health problems please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also get support via the UM CAPS emergency number or the UMHS psychiatric emergency service.

Daily News editor Kate Weiland can be reached at kmwblue@umich.edu.

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