University Saw 7 Suicides in 6 Months, Took Action

'NYT Magazine:' Worcester Polytechnic Institute has shifted thinking after a series of student deaths
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2024 9:30 AM CST
7 Student Deaths in 6 Months: How a University Responded
   (Getty / Tero Vesalainen)

In January 2022, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts died of an apparent suicide. It was the seventh WPI student death in six months, a stretch in which the school scrambled to cope with what is described as an "unthinkable mental health crisis" in a story by Jordan Kisner at the New York Times Magazine. As the story notes, WPI was far from the only university coping with such a crisis amid the pandemic. But WPI had a particular combination of factors working against it in terms of risk factors: a "fast-paced and intense" academic culture, a student body that skewed male, and "a comparatively high number of neurodivergent and introverted students who might struggle to maintain the social bonds that help protect against psychological challenges," writes Kisner, who notes that WPI had only two suicides prior to this stretch since 2006.

The story explores how the school had data analysts pore over student wellness surveys and set up a task force to seek recommendations that have since been put in place: more counselors in a new Center for Well-Being, social programs to help students make friends, at least one day off a term in which classes are canceled and students encouraged to close their books, etc. Another change is that professors "took on the unofficial role of counselors," and that shift will continue. For example, they're encouraged to speak more openly to students about their own struggles and be more flexible on assignments. Some have taken to handing out their personal cell numbers, "though they didn't exactly have the time or bandwidth for that level of tabs-keeping," writes Kisner. "This is, perhaps, the new vanguard: the academic institution as wellness community." Read the full story. (If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.)

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