A School Is Threatening to Punish Students Who Discuss Their Suicidal Thoughts


New York Magazine:

A School Is Threatening to Punish Students Who Discuss Their Suicidal Thoughts

In the winter of 2015, a student at Northern Michigan University named Katerina Klawes sought out help at the university’s counseling office. She had been sexually assaulted in July of 2014 and wanted to talk about her experiences with a professional.On March 25, 2015, she got an alarming email from Mary Brundage, associate dean of students at NMU, which read, in part, as follows:

[quote]Dear Kat, I received a report that others are worried about your well-being. I’d like to meet with you to discuss your options for support and see what I can do to help …
Our self-destructive policy is currently under review, as stated on top of the policy, so it is important that you know a couple of thing sic

]. First, you will not be removed as a student for seeking help from the appropriate resources. You can use any of the resources listed below without worry. Second, Engaging sic] in any discussion of suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions with other students interferes with, or can hinder, their pursuit of education and community. It is important that you refrain from discussing these issues with other students and use the appropriate resources listed below. If you involve other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions you will face disciplinary action. My hope is that, knowing exactly what could result in discipline, you can avoid putting yourself in that position. emphasis mine]

Take care,


The letter was confusing for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Klawes hadn’t even mentioned feeling suicidal during her counseling. For another, it seemed to be saying that she could get in disciplinary trouble simply for talking to her friends about how she was feeling in the aftermath of her assault, which was troubling. So Klawes quickly replied to Brundage, seeking clarification: “I was also wondering if I respond to concerned people, is that enough to get me in trouble?” she wrote. “I do not want to worry others by not responding and I do not want to have the possibility of getting expelled by reaching out to my friends during this emotionally trying time and I see the possibility of misunderstanding or getting more concerned.” In her response Brundage reiterated exactly which subjects Klawes was prohibited from discussing with friends: “You can certainly talk to your friends about how you are doing in general and set their minds at ease. You cannot discuss with other students suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions. It is a very specific limitation.”


I can understand the reasoning. Given that teenagers can get carried away with feelings and the real issue with copycat suicides

Young folk are dangerously suggestible.

And the girl is NOT being refused expert professional help . Far from it.

And I think"punished" is too emotive a word here


The university’s email threatened “disciplinary action.” That’s university-speak for punishment. What would you rather call it? Consequences up to expulsion are punishment, pure and simple.

Yes, copycat suicides are a real risk, and yes, schools are right to be concerned about such.

But to threaten disciplinary action against a student who is depressed after a sexual assault and might be struggling with thoughts of suicide? That’s just cruel. Imagine what would happen, for example, if struggling teens and young adults didn’t feel free to share their feelings with a friend – to honestly say, “I feel like I’d be better off dead.” That prevents friends and classmates from being able to intervene and stop a suicide by consoling the struggling student and getting him/her to appropriate help. Students struggling with suicidal thoughts need their friends’ support if they are going to recover!

I think the university is possibly right to be concerned about copycat suicides, but it’s going about this in totally the wrong way.


I assumed it was a high school. It’s a University? That’s a disgrace. They are all adults. You are SUPPOSED to talk about how you feel if you feel suicidal. If they were young teens, I might make allowances for the fact that the other teens wouldn’t know how to deal with the situation but once you are 18 you can’t be babied. At some point you have to start trusting people to be able to deal with life.


I like that they call it a “self-destructive policy”.

It sure is.





This is kind of ridiculous. Most people would turn to their peers, and after being persuaded to get help, they will turn to professional help.

I know of at least 2 friends personally that would be dead by now if they hadn’t told me about it!

I would understand a rule about maybe students wuo don’t report to the school/a professional if they find out that somebody is suicidal…but this?

Or maybe a rule about romanticising disorders, which is common (students encouraging each other to starve, or hide scars for example, or portraying suicidal thoughts as a positive thing…yes it’s possible). However this is usually done by people ‘trying’ to have a certain disorder

I don’t see the point in punishing a suicidal person for talking about his/her feelings. I honestly don’t see any logic in it. Might be pushing the person to the edge.

However a suicidal person might not care. I know if I’m suicidal, i wouldn’t care even if my school expelled me

So I’m confused.


Not to mention that we’ve got this little thing called the First Amendment, which talks about this little thing called freedom of speech.

From FIRE:

As a constitutional matter, the rule cannot stand. It is an impermissible infringement on NMU students’ right to speak freely on a chosen topic without fear of punishment. The First Amendment simply does not tolerate a public institution’s regulation of the private conversations of peers in such a manner.


Disagree, what is needed is expert professional help. Which classmates and friends are not equipped to give and seeing that may well drag them down too …You cannot be emotional about this. It needs careful and expert handling


Agreed that such a person needs professional help… But a suicidal person is most likely to turn to his/her peers or family first, and then the peers/family should direct that person to appropriate professional help.

Punishing a person for talking to their peers – for many, this is the first step to getting professional help – is downright insane.

Imagine Sally Collegestudent is depressed and considering suicide. She mentions her suicidal thoughts to her roommate Jane. Jane talks with Sally, assures her that her life is not meaningless and she’s very important to many people, and then takes Sally to the emergency room or college counseling service or wherever can provide the most immediate help for Sally.

Under NMU’s policy, Sally could be expelled simply for talking to Jane and mentioning she was suicidal. Never mind the fact that it was talking to Jane that set Sally on the path to professional help so that she won’t actually take her life.

EDITED to add: With most mental illnesses, not only depression, it’s family and friends who first push a mentally ill person to get professional help. The mentally ill person often can’t see their need for help, or sees the need but doesn’t have the ability to find resources to help themselves, or has a fatalistic view that “it [therapy, medication, whatever] won’t help me anyway.” Etc. Family and friends fill a critical role in helping mentally ill people get the professional help they need. If a mentally ill person (whether suicidal or hallucinating or whatever) is prohibited from talking about their symptoms, that reduces the chance of them finding appropriate professional help.


I had to do a suicide intervention once for a very young man in the Army. I did not know he was suicidal until I asked him point-blank if he planned on harming or killing himself.

I would not have known to ask, had not one of his platoon mates brought it to my attention — she had heard things that he had said and discussed.

So if we had had some policy threatening disciplinary action against people voicing thoughts of self-harm or suicide to their peers, I would not have known, and maybe that young man would be dead.

If you think that *discussing *suicide is going to have some negative effect on their peers, what do you thing finding a dead body hanging from a light fixture will do to them?


Northern Michigan U is addressing the issue, but kind of in a “dig in, defend, leave big gaps unaddressed, pretend nothing’s the matter, and attack those who have raised the issue with you” way.

It seems to have taken the offensive “you can’t talk to people” verbage, but doesn’t address or clarify. It also isn’t saying anything about or to the students who have been receiving threats of getting dismissed unless they shut up about their problems.


I’m not impressed.

closed #13

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