Madi and my older son have a lot in common. They both graduated from Shakopee in 2017, are in their last year of college, and faced an all-too-common problem for young adults — a suicidal friend.
A comprehensive study of more than 67,000 college students in the journal “Depression and Anxiety” found that one in five students had suicidal thoughts. Nine percent attempted it, and nearly 20% reported self-injury. For all Americans ages 14 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accidents are first.
My son experienced this recently when his friend and roommate felt overwhelmed with school and personal issues at the end of last semester, then dropped out of college. My son tried several times to reach him over Christmas break, but couldn’t. When my son returned to campus early to start an internship and went into his room, he discovered his roommate’s suicide note. The roommate also left my son his possessions, which were on his bed, saying he no longer needed them. Fortunately he did not kill himself. He got help, reenrolled, and is on pace to graduate in May.
Sadly, Madi’s story has a different ending. She attends a college in the Twin Cities and asked me to not use her last name in this column. Her friend and classmate committed suicide last spring.
“We had planned to live together this year. We looked at some houses together,” Madi told me. “We had the same major, and I knew her from my classes. Classes are small, some are eight to 10 people, so everyone knows everyone else.”
Madi and her classmate frequently texted each other. They also studied together at the library, ate lunches together, and dined at local restaurants.
“It had developed into a friendship,” Madi said. “She was outgoing and one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. She was always trying to put a smile on your face and make you laugh.”
Madi held a position on the college’s Communications Club, which met weekly. She encouraged her classmate to join. “She started making excuses about why she couldn’t go,” Madi said. “I didn’t think anything about it because she was on a sports team on campus, so it made sense when she said, ‘I’m really busy.’”
She and her classmate weren’t as close during the spring semester.
“I was texting with her, but it seemed different. We didn’t talk as much,” Madi said. “Then I was sitting in the communications department when the Communications Club president came in and said, ‘Look at your phone. Is this real?’ The whole student body had received an email saying she had passed away. I felt like, ‘What? No. I don’t think it’s true.’”
Stories started swirling that she had committed suicide. At first, Madi refused to believe it.
“I said, ‘There’s no way.’ But it was true,” Madi said. “The story was that she was struggling a lot internally.”
Over the following days, Madi went to a vigil and the funeral. Friends talked about her and prayed. The experience shaped how Madi deals with her own issues.
“I’ve always been the type of person to make sure others are OK. I talk to whoever wants to talk to me. I reach out to people who I don’t think have someone to talk to,” she said. “After what happened, I feel like I’m double checking that everyone is OK. It makes me think that what she did is never the solution to feeling down. A lot of people feel down. Life isn’t perfect, and life isn’t always going to go the way you want. After seeing her parents and her family, I know that no matter what, that is something I never want to do to my family and friends.”
This was not the first time she had a friend commit suicide. When she was in 10th grade, a family friend killed himself. He and Madi weren’t best friends, but they texted often and knew either other well.
“He was the happiest individual I ever met. He lit up a room. He was funny. It made me realize that the happiest people struggle too. It was one of my first experiences with someone dying young. It still weighs on me a lot,” she said. “It was so sudden. He sent me a funny video. A day or two later, my mom said that he passed away. That was something that disrupted me every single day for a long time.”
Madi said she understands the importance of helping others feel good. “It’s crazy how far a little thing can go,” she said. “Even saying hi to someone in the hallway can make a big impact. I didn’t realize that before.”