Depression and Suicide at W&L

"Depression is like waking up one day trapped in a small, dark, airless box. At first you don’t realize where you are. You are calm as you search around for a way out. Then, the truth sets in and you begin to panic. You frantically scratch at the walls and cry out for someone to help you. As time passes, you begin to lose hope that there is anyone out there to hear your cries or care enough to come to your rescue. You give up and feel lost and alone. You are so despondent and helpless that you don’t think you can stand it anymore. You wish it would all just end." - W&L Student

Clinical Depression is a state in which persistent depressed mood or loss of interest occurs together with other reliable physical and mental signs for at least 2 weeks and interfere with a person’s ability to perform his or her daily activities.

  • Depression is a mood disorder that affected 10% of the U.S. population in the past year. Between 20-25% of women and 7-12% of men will suffer a clinical depression during their lifetime.
  • Only 12% of people who are depressed see a specialist for their problem. 
  • A recent World Health Organization projection for the year 2020 estimates that, of all diseases, depression will impose the second-largest burden of ill health worldwide.
The best way I can describe depression is [that it was] like a war against the clock. Time was the enemy. I would wake up terrified of the coming 24 hours and just completely dreading having to be awake for them. I would roll over in bed for as long as I possibly could in an effort to postpone waking. I felt like I was in a fog. I’d go through the motions – the bare minimum – of what I had to do each day, eagerly awaiting the chance to return to unconsciousness (e.g. bed). I’d be annoyed perpetually with my friends (though I’d never show it) purely because they were too doggone happy all the time. Obnoxious smiling and giggling! I’d strive to think of things that would lift my mood … ANYTHING that could possibly give me a reason to be excited and would inevitably come up empty... It was like eternal, hopeless boredom with life." - W&L Student

Does Depression Occur at W&L?

While depression and suicidal ideation are not frequent topics discussed openly by W&L students, they are serious problems afflicting a large proportion of the student body.

“My first reaction was disbelief, as in, ‘This can’t really be happening to me. I thought maybe I was just fatigued. Perhaps it was simply the winter doldrums creating a foul mood. Depression wasn’t something that was real and it certainly wasn’t something serious, and it most definitely wasn’t something that a competent, capable individual experienced. Maybe that was just ego speaking, but still, when you have a history of being a successful person, you don’t expect something like this to happen to you. But it did.” –W&L Student 

According to a 2004 health survey, 44% of W&L students reported that they felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, 14.4% of students have been diagnosed with clinical depression, 7% of students seriously considered attempting suicide in the past years, and 5 students reported that they attempted to commit suicide at least once.  Depression affects nearly 1 in 5 students on this campus.


“When the prescribed drugs didn’t work for me, I took matters into my own hands. I tried nicotine, hoping that maybe the soothing effects of cigarettes would help clear my mind and calm my nerves. When that didn’t work satisfactorily, I turned to marijuana, which was a poor choice that left me standing on the railing of a bridge contemplating jumping.”W&L Student

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death in American adults ages 18-24, and is the second leading cause of death in college students. The rate for suicide in this age group has tripled over the past 60 years. 
  • One in every twelve college students has made a suicide plan.
  • It is estimated that for every completed suicide, there are 50-200 attempts. 
  • People who commit suicide often do so because they believe that it is the only solution to the pain that they are in. They are often unable to see that the problem they have is temporary, so they turn to suicide as a permanent solution. 
  • The majority of people who have committed suicide have sought some kind of medical help. Indeed, 8 out of 10 people who commit suicide have told at least one person that they were thinking about it or have given clear warning signs. 
  • 95% of college students who commit suicide were suffering from some mental illness, usually depression. 
  • Substance abuse can foster suicidal behavior through increased impulsivity and decreased inhibition. More than half of students who committed suicide were intoxicated when they took their life. 
  • Many individuals do not receive the help available to them on campus. In a 2003 study taken from University Counseling Centers across the country, out of the 160 student suicides reported by all of the schools involved, only 31 of those students were receiving help from the counseling center at the time.

“There was one point soon after I was informed of my anxiety and depression that I considered the validity and value of my life. I remember realizing that suicide was not the solution to my problem; however, it was difficult dealing with my emotions. The only thing I could do was to cry in the fetal position.”W&L Student

Some warning signs of suicide include: 

  • Directly expressing an intention to hurt oneself.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Directly mentioning wanting to “end it all.” 
  • Taking life-threatening risks.
  • Suddenly feeling much better after a period of depression.
  • Noticeable changes in behavior, such as changes in sleeping or eating patterns, becoming withdrawn from friends, or becoming apathetic towards activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Extreme sadness.
  • Having recently experienced a loss of a significant relationship.
  • Having recently experienced some sort of failure or embarrassment.
  • Becoming increasingly reckless or impulsive.
  • Increasing use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Having unrealistically high self expectations.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or expressing an inability to handle their current situation.

Causes, Signs and Symptoms
Where to Get Help