Talking About Suicide

Because it's not a taboo

Some results of talking about suicide

Since this blog is about talking openly about suicide, I should offer this update.

I applied to a few law schools last fall, and my personal essay mentioned my suicide attempt experience. It helped to explain why I would consider leaving a career I’ve loved _ including reporting in China, which the essay discussed as well _ and why I would be interested in exploring mental health law. I ran the essay by a couple of well-respected lawyers in New York who had either studied or worked at law schools that rank in the U.S. top five, and they liked it. They also took it well. “Do I need to worry about you?” one asked, and left it at that. Then he suggested applying to an Ivy League school I hadn’t considered.

I applied to three Ivy League schools and a top “public Ivy” with a well-known liberal background. As of this week, they’ve all said no.

Some might say I shouldn’t have mentioned suicide. But when it’s addressed in a calm, matter-of-fact way, and the person intends to use the experience to help others, and the other factors in the application are strong …

I wonder why law schools with the standing and the resources to take a chance on sensitive rights issues would back off on this one. The subject needs to be explored, and having the support of such a prominent school could bring weight and attention to what remains a very limited conversation.

If the schools just didn’t want to deal with it, that would be disappointing. A lot of people don’t want to deal with it. That’s how stigma, misunderstandings and rights abuses can happen.

(Just sour grapes? Pissiness? I hope not. I think it’s worth considering.)

It hasn’t been a solid wall of “No.” I’ve been accepted to a law school here in New York that’s special for its focus on public interest _ it was one of my two favorite schools _ and it even invited me to interview for one of its full-tuition fellowships. The interview got a bit awkward when we discussed my essay, and they asked whether law school would be some kind of trigger, but can that be a surprise? Even I’m not going to tell you that talking about suicide comes smoothly, especially with strangers.

“I’ll get used to talking about it as needed,” I wrote to them later, in a thank-you note. “I’m sure more people will.”

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