Washington Square News has suggested that three recent campus suicides should have been marked more publicly by the school, and that they may reflect NYU’s lack of a community and possibly substandard mental health services. Beckman responds:

[S]uicides, especially among the young in a closed community like a school, are prone to a contagion effect, which is exacerbated by rapidly spread information about the deaths and by honoring the individuals publicly.

… [I]t is a perilous endeavor to speculate about the motives for self-harm. The defining characteristic of suicide is typically deep, unrelenting hopelessness that goes untreated. It is little more than a guessing game to try to ascribe a suicide’s reason to one thing or another. That is why we were so disappointed to see WSN … impute the student’s death to a lack of community at NYU.

… WSN’s characterization of NYU’s health and mental health services doesn’t tell the real story. We routinely conduct patient satisfaction surveys with students, and the overwhelming majority feel their clinician was knowledgeable, that they felt respected, that their appointment was scheduled promptly and that the services helped them stay in school.

… [W]hile some will no doubt continue to disagree with our position [we hope] they will at least come to understand that our decision is guided by the research in the field, our experience and an unwavering focus on doing what is the best interests of students.

It sounds cruel – don’t honor the students publicly, etc. – but NYU is correct about the research and about the enigmatic complexity of the event. Boris Pasternak wrote:

We have no conception of the inner torture which precedes suicide.

… The continuity of his inner life is broken, his personality is at an end. And perhaps what finally makes him kill himself is not the firmness of his resolve but the unbearable quality of this anguish which belongs to no one, of this suffering in the absence of the sufferer, of this waiting which is empty because life has stopped and can no longer fill it.

… What is certain is that they all suffered beyond description, to the point where suffering has become a mental sickness. And as we bow in homage to their gifts and to their bright memory, we should bow compassionately before their suffering.

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2 Responses to “John Beckman, NYU Spokesperson, Writes a Strong and Honest Letter to the Student Newspaper.”

  1. dmf Says:

    tragically we have little grasp of (or tolerance for) complexity and the limits of knowing (let alone controlling) and so are badly handicapped when it comes to having reasonable conversations about remediation/amelioration of these kinds of issues.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    dmf: Agreed.

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