Editor’s note: This is a letter to the editor in response to the Nov. 11 article "Elon junior dead after fall at UNC Chapel Hill." Letters must be signed and submitted in a Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Pendulum reserves the right to edit for length, clarity and grammar.
I am a recent graduate of Elon University, and while I was at Elon, I struggled with depression.
I got decent grades, was involved in multiple campus organizations (including The Pendulum) and had many amazing experiences. But all the while, I felt depressed. There were some nights I started to entertain the idea of ending my life, but I cut that off as soon as I could. Some of us who struggle with depression don’t do that.
When I saw the report that Elon junior Demitri Allison had died after falling from a 10-story residence hall on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill, I felt sad. Then I saw in the Smith Jackson email that there were concerns for his mental state. Then the UNC police report said the death had been ruled a suicide.
I never met Demitri. He was a freshman when I was a senior, and I had finished covering football for The Pendulum, which I did for two years, the year before he came to campus. I don’t know what exactly what was happening in his head that caused his reported suicide.
But I want to take this opportunity to encourage the students of Elon University, and anyone else who reads this, to begin or continue the conversation surrounding mental illnesses like depression.
Something about depression makes people like me who deal with it feel even more alone. We don’t want to stand out around our friends as being weird or different. We don’t want to ruin happy occasions like parties and video game nights and Cook Out runs with our late-night fears and demons in our heads. We don’t want our freshman year roommate to think we’re weird when we tell him/her that we sometimes wish he/she wasn’t around so we could just sit in our room and feel crappy by ourselves, because being around happy people can be exhausting.
The voices in our head tell us that opening up to others about our fears will lead to us losing friends, a near death-blow in college life. You’re away from home, you’re away from high school friends — losing college friends would just make it worse.
It seems like the only answer sometimes is to just escape. You go home for a weekend, visit friends at another school, drive around Burlington for a night (probably the sketchiest option). If nothing works, then, well, there’s an option you can take that will get you out of all that misery permanently.
We who suffer with depression need other people who care about us. People who will put their own things aside for a moment to listen to our sometimes nonsensical ramblings about the fears in our head, however irrational. People who will read up on depression to learn more. People who will be selfless.
I just recently got engaged to a girl I went to Elon with. She was a Teaching Fellow and involved in the same campus ministry as me. We started dating near the end of my senior year, her junior year. In the first couple months of our relationship, I began to share with her the struggles and battles that come with depression. I was a little nervous. I mean, it’s not often a guy goes deep into what his weaknesses are when he’s dating a girl, especially early on.
She was exactly what I needed. She listened compassionately. She offered to listen to me, not to fix me. She asked questions when appropriate and pointed me to things I could hold onto, truths I could believe.
That’s the key — remembering what’s true. Our minds make up lots of lies — I’m not worthy, I don’t offer anybody anything, etc. Those of us with depression need to remember what’s true for us, something outside of us. For me and my now fiancée, that had to do with our shared faith, but it can be anything that is foundational to you in your life.
I could write a thousand more words on this subject, but I’ll wrap this up with two challenges.
First, to the Elon student body: If there’s a friend of yours who has depression, commit to your friendship with them and show it to them. Whatever you think about Jesus, one of his statements can’t be ignored: There’s no greater love than a man who lays his life down for his friends. By putting your friend with depression first, even for a moment, you’re showing an amount of love too big to be quantified.
Second, to the Elon administration: Do whatever you can to make conversation around depression and other mental illness as painless as possible. There’s going to be pain. Depression is a painful thing. But by doing whatever you can to make those who feel depressed not feel alone, you’re making a step in the right direction.
That’s what we who are depressed need the most.
Class of 2014, Print Journalism
Former sports editor of The Pendulum