Joining PIKE is one of the best decisions I’ve made. The friendships, memories, and experiences I’ve gained through PIKE will carry with me throughout the remainder of my life. While most of these memories and experiences are great, a few are not. One experience particularly sticks out in my mind, and when I find myself thinking about it, I wish I could go back and do things differently.
In fall 2015, I was serving my first term as chapter president. We had just recruited a great new member class, and I developed strong friendships with many of these men early in the semester. Later that semester, a few of the new members told me John was considering dropping the Fraternity. John was one of the guys I put a lot of work into recruiting and befriending so I reached out to him and asked if we could get dinner together. He told me he was having a hard time transitioning into college life, so we talked about things that helped me my freshman year. By the end of dinner, he seemed less stressed.
About a week later, I asked him to lunch because I had a feeling he was still struggling. During lunch, I learned more about how he had been feeling since arriving at Delta State University. He told me he struggled with depression in high school and was prescribed medication to help with the symptoms. John said he had not been happy at college, and he felt depressed like he had in high school. While I have trouble recalling every detail of our conversation, I remember fearing the possibility of him being suicidal, so I was careful in how I proceeded. I knew I needed to be direct and ask him if he had been having suicidal thoughts. He said he had not made any plans to take his own life, but he was very unhappy and depressed.
As we continued to talk, I told John about the brother in my new member class who came to me a year earlier to tell me he had been having suicidal thoughts. He first talked to the campus Reformed University Fellowship minister, and he encouraged him to seek additional individuals for support. I was the second person he told, and that meant more to me than I will ever be able to express. I continued to tell John more about the struggles he experienced including the fear of telling his parents about his depression and suicidal thoughts. I spoke about his experience seeing a counselor on campus and telling his parents about what he was going through. I told John that he knows this brother of mine and that him seeking support has allowed him to regain enjoyment in life.
I wanted John to see it was okay to be vulnerable and know he was not alone. I also wanted him to know he has options for getting support. I knew that John read his Bible when he was distraught, so I shared a book that helped me through the grieving of the sudden loss of my cousin earlier that year, “God’s Psychiatry”. I also encouraged him to reach out to the RUF minister because he had also helped me through some challenging times. Before we left lunch, I asked him if he would promise me to not make any rash decisions and to call me immediately to talk if he began having troubling thoughts.
During the remainder of the fall semester, he seemed like he was happier.
The following semester, John withdrew from the university. In late, February he returned home to live with his family, and for many of his Fraternity brothers, including me, that was the last time we saw or talked to John. Three months later, early in the morning on May 28th, John took his own life.
I was with several Fraternity brothers, including one of John’s lifelong friends, in Columbus, Georgia, for a brother’s graduation from the National Guard when we received the news. The seven-hour drive home was the longest and most difficult seven hours I have endured to this day, and it undoubtedly was harder for John’s lifelong friend who had stayed in touch with him. The entire drive home I wrestled in my mind trying to think of what I could have done to prevent this.
The following days and weeks, I replayed our conversations from the fall over and over in my head asking myself, why didn’t I do more? I couldn’t help but blame myself. I knew he struggled with depression. I knew he was inadvertently isolated from most of his friends because he had to move back home. I knew these were risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and yet I didn’t reach out to him after he left Delta State.
Having lost my father to suicide, I knew it was unfair to blame myself for what happened to John. Regardless, I still carry it with me to this day, and I wish I could go back and do things differently. Unfortunately, there is nothing I or anyone else can do now to help my dad or my friend John; but there are so many others who are struggling with suicide at this very moment. These are the only people who we can help now. They might be your friend, your sibling, your significant other, your parent, your Fraternity brother, or it might even be you who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
I share this experience in hopes you will be inspired to research and educate yourself and those around you about the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. No one should ever have to feel so alone and depressed that the only answer is death. Everyone in the darkness deserves another chance for a happy life.
By JC Blackmon (Delta State, Zeta Beta ’13)
If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, text: START to 741-741 or call: 1- 800-273-TALK (8255).
Learn more about the specific resources available on your campus by visiting http://pike.ulifeline.org/