April 19, 2001

Panel to Discuss Suicide Prevention

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Returning home late on a cold night last November, Scott McWilliam grad, his brother and two friends noticed a girl sitting at the edge of the footbridge over Fall Creek gorge. In passing, they asked the girl if she was all right. She said yes, and they proceeded on.

The group had been partying and they were hurrying to get home, but something about the situation made them pause at the end of the footbridge, and they returned to speak with the girl.

“My brother and I went back to talk to her, and we asked her if she was okay. She said no,” McWilliam recalled.

McWilliam’s roommate and his friend — the others who were walking with McWilliam — headed home to notify the police, and as the evening’s events would unravel, they learned that they girl was preparing to jump from the bridge.

The Student Health Alliance at Cornell (SHAC) will host a panel discussion today at 5 p.m. in the International Lounge of Willard Straight Hall, at which McWilliam will detail his experience with suicide during his everyday student life. Members of several organizations — including trained and experienced students and professional staff — will discuss suicide prevention at Cornell and how everybody can help reduce the risk of a suicide among people with whom they are in contact.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, ages 15-24, according to Ellen Schmidt, coordinator of education for the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service (SPCS). SPCS, a 24-hour service that is free, anonymous and confidential, receives about 10,000 calls every year. SPCS receives calls of any concern.

“Many people are going to be faced with some kind of situation [dealing with suicide] at some point in their lives,” Schmidt said.

McWilliam’s response was not one that he prepared, but it turned out that he helped to save a student’s life the night he passed her on the footbridge.

“We almost didn’t do the right thing,” McWilliam recalled. “Even going back to talk with her, half of me was thinking: ‘she’s going to be pissed off that we called the police.'”

Looking back on the events that had taken place that night, McWilliam noted that many friends later said they would not have stopped for the girl — not for lack of empathy but because they would expect that most people would not interfere.

“That’s exactly how I felt,” he said.

Tamar Mellen ’02, who organized the panel with SHAC, encourages all students to engage the panel in an open discussion. Mellen emphasized that anybody is invited, not just somebody with a particular or personal concern about suicide.

With SPCS, the panel will feature representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services at Gannett: University Health Services, Cornell United Religious Work, Campus Life and the Empathy and Referral Service.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch