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Cosmic Variance
By Sean Carroll
Jul 27, 2009 6:08 PMNov 5, 2019 8:20 AM


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Last week, members of the Caltech community received a dreaded piece of email: a student had taken their own life. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that this was the third Caltech student to do so in the last year. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. In the aftermath of such an event, there is a feeling of powerlessness; you try to console or sympathize with anyone who might have known the student, but at the end of the day there's no much you can do. But it is possible to take some steps to try to prevent such tragedies from happening. It is believed that, in over 80 percent of cases, people who attempt suicide are struggling with some form of mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Although there is no way to know for sure whether someone is contemplating such a drastic step, there are certain warning signs, including severe depression and changes in mood or habits. Caltech has set up a website on preventing suicide and violence, which goes over some of the signs and ways that a friend can take steps to help persuade someone from going too far:

I'm sure that many universities (and companies) have similar resources; it's worth taking a minute to familiarize yourself with what's available where you work or go to school. Most importantly, if you've ever contemplated suicide yourself: don't do it. That's cheap and easy advice, but the crucial point is to make sure you stop, talk to people, and take advantage of counselors. Being a college student can be an extraordinarily stressful and pressure-filled time; if you're feeling overwhelmed, be assured that it's not just you, and that it is possible to get through it. You will find people who are willing to listen, understand, and try to be helpful, if you are willing to reach out to them. Tough times can be overcome, but taking a life is irrevocable. Seek help before the pressure gets to be too much.

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