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A few years ago, my life was changed forever when my youngest brother took his life. I know I am not the only one in our community who has lost a loved one to suicide.
There are others — too many others — in the Harvard community who have lost a child, a parent, a sibling, or a friend to suicide. The outpouring of support for my family after my brother died was immediate and impactful. But after a loss, time passes, families and communities move forward, and we stop talking about suicide.
We need to keep talking. Those who are suffering from depression and other mental illnesses need our support every day, not just when they are in crisis. We need to be comfortable listening when someone is expressing ideas that their life is not worth living. We need to let them know that they matter and then try to get them the help they need.
I am grateful to the many people on this campus who work tirelessly to offer this support. We are fortunate to have so many dedicated student leaders at the College — from the many peer counseling groups to the Student Mental Health Liaisons to all peer advisors focused on wellness working to promote a healthy, supportive student community. I stand in awe of our College and University faculty and staff, including the faculty deans, resident deans, proctors and tutors, and our Counseling and Mental Health Services therapists for all that they do to connect our students to vital resources, to provide treatment, and to offer educational or prevention-based support across the University.
And yet, we still need to do more. We need to keep working until every member of this community is able to take advantage of the information and resources available to them. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about my youngest brother. But we shouldn’t have to experience enormous loss to recognize that we are all in each other’s worlds, and that we need to take care of each other.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, which prompted me to share my own experience. But we should be having this conversation all the time. We need to work together to normalize the conversations about mental health, to use the word “suicide” and not be afraid. I am no longer afraid to talk about this. Let’s start talking right now.
Please, if you are having thoughts of suicide, counselors are available at Harvard University Health Services and can be reached at 617-495-5711 or online. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Rakesh Khurana is the dean of Harvard College.
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