Sitting in the waiting room in the Utah State student clinic the tears fell from my eyes. I barely tried to wipe them away. I was broken and nothing would fix me. I had never seen this doctor before. I didn’t even know if I could pay the bill to see him. My new husband and I could hardly afford our weekly groceries, let alone doctor bills and medicine. His eyes were kind as I explained the symptoms that both of us knew were depression. He handed me the prescription for the pills I needed, but said, “I can give you these, but you really need to get some counselling to treat your depression.” I explained that I was in student teaching. I was in school every day from 8 to 4 and no counseling services were available in the evenings. He seemed to know the answer before I gave it. We had no solutions, so I left the examination room with a grandfatherly pat on the back. I wiped my tears away and put my mask back on.
I couldn’t give any indication that I was struggling this way. I had heard that two other girls in the previous semester had been dismissed from the Elementary Education program for their depression. They were suing the school, but there was no question in my mind that if they suspected that I had depression, they would want me out. No one wants a crazy woman around kids.
Maybe that was why I couldn’t get pregnant, I thought. A fresh surge of tears flooded my eyes. Even God didn’t want me to have children. I was damaged goods; a worthless waste of space. I managed to graduate from the program. I hid my depression, took my pills, and I cried mostly in the school bathroom where no one would know. I vowed I would never teach. I didn’t belong standing in front of a group of children training them to be a part of a world I couldn’t function in myself. I was a fraud and I knew it.
I ended up moving to Texas after graduation and going to LDS social services for counselling in Carollton. It was good for me. I got on top of my depression and with my therapist’s encouragement, I got a job teaching school. Now here I am fifteen years later with four kids and still working through my issues with depression once again. Some people wonder why I don’t ever get “fixed” for good. I wonder sometimes too. Take this week for example.
I tried really hard not to be triggered when I read about the BYU girl that jumped to her death on campus this week. Then I read about the other students telling their stories about the dearth of services available to them. I read the heartbreaking letter that some brave girl stuck to the door of the BYU student services. My soldiers are out. I am so angry that this is happening! We are failing our children! This is not okay.
I’ve read defensive comments and articles saying that it is unfair to blame the church or the school for this girl’s death. After all, most college campuses are in the same situation with wait times for their counselors. Becoming defensive isn’t the answer. Criticizing the Salt Lake Tribune or the New York Post for being anti-Mormon is not going to solve anything. The fact is, this is the situation we have. Are we okay with it?
Are we going to blame the victim? I’m sure many people are. She made a selfish decision! She was a sinner and what was she doing at BYU! What about the kids on the waiting list languishing in depression? Do you have any idea how long eight weeks is for a depressed person to wait to get treatment? They have to close that balcony. Do you know why? Suicides like this one inspire copycats. Why are there promising, smart young LDS people who want to jump off a balcony? Spoiler alert: it isn’t because they are sinners. It’s probably because they are hurting really badly. BYU is pretty good about kicking out students who break the honor code. What about giving a helping hand to students who are fighting off urges to kill themselves? I’m not ready to hand out blame, but if something doesn’t change, I just might. BYU leadership is looking at making a change, but top down leadership won’t be enough. Each one of us who have been baptized a member of the church is a representative of the Savior. Are your soldiers out? There are reasons to be angry, and now is the time to let that anger motivate change. I know I have problems and I am working making changes in my own life, but what about everybody else?
Maybe the problem isn’t totally with me and my fellow sufferers. Maybe the problem is with a society that is so driven by material success that we are starving to death from a lack of human connection. We are forced to put a mask of perfection on everywhere we go to avoid judgement. That’s wrong guys! How long is it going to take before we develop some compassion? I am willing to put the blame on myself when I deserve it, but I don’t deserve it today. I am really down today and it isn’t my fault. It is a broken world and that broken BYU girl, a beautiful symbol of the future, lying on the floor of the Tanner Building with fatal injuries just won’t leave my head. Maybe she won’t leave my head because she needs to be there. She could have been me. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s roommate. She could have been a mom someday. She died at 19. She matters. Who is going to speak for her?
I want to be a peaceful, calm relief society sister just like everybody else. I want to trust in my church leaders and worry about my own behavior. I don’t want to be an angry you-know-what standing up on a soapbox and calling people out. I’m uncomfortable!! I don’t want to be here!! But someone needs to be here. Someone needs to draw awareness to a problem that exists. We can’t minimize it, or make excuses for it, or blame the larger culture for it without trivializing the people who are suffering. The Savior wouldn’t want that. She matters to Him.
Every day this week I am going to flood social media with information about suicide and suicide awareness with the hashtag #BYUsuicide. If your soldiers are out, I invite you to do the same. Nephi said that the Lord uses small and simple means to bring to pass that which is great. Maybe the small and simple posts we make will do enough to change the culture and save some lives.