The Wisdom to Ask for Help

help-flashIn the last year, at least six Cornell University students have committed suicide, with the most recent death in March. Back in the late 1990s, there was a similar wave of suicides, giving the university a reputation as a “suicide school.” While that’s a little bit unfair–yes, it’s cold and dark and dreary in Ithaca during the winters–Cornell has developed an admirably open and proactive mental health approach to its problem.

Suicides are awful — and suicides among young, bright students with so much potential? It’s that much more heart-wrenching. Yet somehow, news of these deaths has sparked excellent conversations about recognizing depression in teens.

Amid these recent tragedies, Cornell president David Skorton wrote a beautiful letter to his community, reminding them:

If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 7 suicides for every 100,000 college students each year. As a college professor, I try to be open and available to my students if they want to talk about personal problems-and in my classes, we discuss the encouraging social change toward open discussion of depression and other mental illness.

Virtues like wisdom, strength and courage are usually discussed in terms of valor and greatness-slaying a dragon or fighting in a war. But we can exhibit these virtues on a personal level every day. President Skorton’s words ring true: Asking for help is a sign of wisdom and strength. Admitting weakness and allowing someone else to help shoulder your burden, or lead you to safety, is an act of maturity and courage.

Christine B. Whelan

Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.


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