As an NYU student who has attempted suicide while at school, I know how important effective outreach is. And I know what isn’t working with the outreach that NYU has in place now. Not that it is ineffective—that is, of course, untrue. I’m sure there have been many, many students who have been reached through UCS and the Wellness Center. However, I also know that there is another large population that is completely turned off by the tactics used by the administration. If I exist, there have to be others like me. Those are the kids that Icarus at NYU aims to reach.
The idea of a suicide contagion is that when a suicide occurs in a community it may encourage other members of that community to commit suicide. A suicide contagion may also be referred to a cluster of suicides. In a report published by the New York State Office of Mental Health in 2004, they discussed the idea of a suicide contagion as a special risk factor for college students. The report said, “College students appear to be particularly susceptible to suicide contagion/imitation. In recent years, a number of suicide clusters, usually involving jumping from heights, have been reported on college campuses. Within New York State, apparent suicide clusters have occurred at Cornell University and New York University.” The cluster of suicides at NYU occurred during the 2003-2004 academic year and was heavily publicized by the media. This episode of a suicide cluster instilled much fear in the NYU administration.
The “new psychiatry” is one of increased neuroscience research and medication use, and a move away from the soft humanities practices like psychoanalysis. Though many psychiatrists accepted the social science critique of diagnostic procedures, they clearly missed out on what the sociologists were saying. It was not simply that diagnosis needed to be refined. Instead, the sociological research points to the complexity of how language and labels filter our perceptions of the world.
The Icarus Project Peer Education Program at New York University is an ongoing student led program geared to educate and train students at NYU to be well versed in issues regarding many diverse aspects of mental health. By participating in the peer education program, students will be interactively educated in various mental health arenas, while receiving training in facilitation skills. The Icarus Project Peer Education Program seeks to further NYU students’ understanding of metal health as well as supplying resources for all NYU students. This program allows participants to explore and expand definitions of mental health and mental health awareness, while providing a social activist peer support system. By working within a group of dedicated peers, students will learn, construct, organize and lead workshops designed to educate the NYU community about mental health issues in a supportive, creative, and rewarding environment.
There has been a constant tension in Icarus’ pursuit of academic and institutional legitimacy because the project itself is a “radical” approach to mental health support. The desire to be effective on a larger level means working with the Wellness Exchange and with people who might not necessarily understand where we are coming from. Another major hurdle I’ve been trying to jump (with mixed results) is to connect with psych majors and pre-med students, who are often turned off by the Icarus Project’s basic tenants, but are precisely the people we need to have on our side. The
The New York Times is currently doing a series of articles on “troubled children” which focuses on the “increasing number of children whose problems are diagnosed as mental disorders.” The most recent article is called “Off to College on Their Own, Shadowed by Mental Illness.” The article is about the difficult transition from high school to college for students with “serious mental illnesses.”
I have a vision of a day when there are established communities on college campuses across the nation where the stigma surrounding “mental illness” has been eliminated, communication has been opened, and there is a network of students committed to supporting one another through their struggles. We are building a strong community, both outside and inside the NYU community, and moving in the right direction.
this is from the first semester we had interns at NYU. it was an assignment to read seven short essays from our website and write a bit about each of them. it's still a dormant idea waiting for action.