Celia Watson Seupel’s case of the if only’s usually starts around 4 a.m. each day, the same time police knocked on her upstate New York home earlier this year after her son, Spencer, took his life in a Penn State fraternity house.
“If only he had called me,” she says. “He did call me sometimes when he was upset about things. If only I had said something. I do it constantly.”
Spencer was an Eagle Scout, a pre-med college student who joined a fraternity as a way to make friends and meet girls. In a drunken impulse, he locked himself in his room and took his life.
Campus suicides are not uncommon. More than 1,000 suicides will occur on college campuses this year alone. Some will garner national media attention (Tyler Clementi), while others will go unnoticed (a former Temple student who shot himself in February on campus).
Not all millennials are suicidal, but there’s evidence that shows we’re unequipped to deal with the mental stress of student loans and lack of job security. “Millennials are working in an economic environment that is much more complicated than previous generations,” says Steven J. Berkowitz, a University of Pennsylvania child psychiatrist. And they grew up with parents doing their homework assignments and writing college admission essays, he says. “Then when they got accepted, it’s like, ‘Now what?’” says Berkowitz.
Millennials are more stressed than any other generation, including Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, according to an American Psychological Association study. Why? We’re immature. And while it might seem like we never shut up (about sports, about friends, about siblings), we shy away from talking about our feelings more so than Baby Boomers, according to the study.
That’s a problem, says Berkowitz. He and a team of Yale researchers found that when children and teenagers who were victims of a traumatic experience (sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence) spoke about their feelings with an expert, they were nearly 73 percent less likely to experience the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. Know-it-all Millennial, your dramatic generation has nothing to complain about like the kids Berkowitz interviewed, you say at your computer. This former frat boy hears you, but I’m not the one you should be talking to. Don’t take my advice.
Listen to Berkowitz. Better yet, listen to Seupel: “If you ever hear someone say, ‘I’m going to kill myself,’ you have to take it seriously. I think if that was the case, he would be alive.”