Yesterday morning about midway through practice the lightweight guys did an on-the-water “tribute” for suicide awareness and prevention. The lightweights started doing this last year after they were approached about getting involved with the group that was holding an awareness and prevention walk in the park on the other side of the inlet. They thought it would be cool to do something on the water so they had the middle four rowers take their oars out of the oarlocks and stand up in the boat.
This year they managed to get the bow 7 of the far left boat standing and the middle 6 of the other two. It was really cool to see and so funny to watch as they all carefully removed their oars and stood up. It was about 45-50 degrees outside so there was a lot of motivation to move as gingerly as possible so as to avoid falling in the water. I didn’t notice until we were finished but there was actually a good sized group of people on the shore watching us and clapping for the guys when they got everyone standing up. They all said thank you to those of us in the launches and seemed genuinely grateful for the guys’ contribution.
When I was a freshman at Syracuse in 2006 I think there was something like three suicides at Cornell/in Ithaca in the month of August alone. (The gorges are popular jumping spots.) It was really jarring because as a freshman in college, hearing about so many people taking such extreme measures to rid themselves of their problems made me really nervous about the next few years. Fast forward a few years to 2010 with all the suicides of teenagers and young adults because they were being bullied over their sexual orientation or typical teenage bullshit. Fast forward again just a few months and that was when I started hearing about people my age committing suicide at alarming rates because they were so overwhelmed by student loan debt and being unable to find a decent paying job. I still read articles about this and it scares the shit out of me because I relate to that stuff so hard.
I think the vast majority of people who read this blog are either in high school, are in college, or have just graduated and there’s a lot of shit that goes along with being at each one of those stages in life. If you see or suspect someone is having a hard time, offer your support. All it takes is just letting someone know they can talk to you if they ever need it and then actually being there when they need you.
If you see or hear someone bullying someone else, say something. Someone’s personal hardships, who they’re into, what they look like, etc. doesn’t make them cannon fodder. Sometimes people make really shitty decisions when they’re in a dark place – been there, done that – and more often than not it’s a call for help and having crass remarks directed towards them is not what they need. If you notice any of the warning signs of someone being suicidal, you have a responsibility to tell someone. That someone should be an adult – one of your coaches, a parent, a teacher, a counselor at school, etc. Do not just brush it off as them being dramatic or trying to get attention.
If you’re going through something, regardless of what it is or how big, small, or insignificant it seems, talk to someone. If you don’t think you can talk to a friend, parent, coach, or someone at school, you’re always more than welcome to email me. Sometimes (or most of the time) it’s a lot easier to vent to a stranger about things that are going on than it is to talk to people you know. It can be hard for the people who know you to understand that but I get it so you can always email me if you’ve got something going on and need someone to talk to. I’m available to give advice or just listen. I really hate when people try to solve my problems for me so if you just want to get stuff of your chest and rant, go for it.
This post isn’t entirely related to crew but hopefully you can see how it has a place in our sport. Like eating disorders, it’s something that isn’t talked about enough. That combined with the stigma of mental health issues contributes to a large part of the reason why people don’t ask for help and then the people who knew them lament over how “normal” they seemed because they never came off as sad or depressed. You’d be surprised how easy it is to keep all that stuff hidden if you really wanted to. There’s a lot of pressure with rowing, a lot more than there is with other sports at times, and sometimes it can be overwhelming when combined with everything else we’ve got going on. Suicide is never the answer though. There’s always people willing to help, regardless of whether they’re a friend or a stranger.