The Wisdom to Ask for Help

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/19/10

"If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength."

In the last six months, at least six Cornell University students have committed suicide. Back in the late 1990s, there was a similar wave of suicides, giving the university a reputation as a "suicide school." While that's a little bit unfair--yes, it's cold and dark and dreary in Ithaca during the winters--Cornell has developed an admirably open and proactive mental health approach to its problem.

Plus, news of these deaths has sparked excellent conversations about recognizing depression in teens.

Amid these recent tragedies, Cornell president David Skorton wrote a beautiful letter to his community, reminding them:

If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 7 suicides for every 100,000 college students each year. As a college professor, I try to be open and available to my students if they want to talk about personal problems-and in my classes, we discuss the encouraging social change toward open discussion of depression and other mental illness.

Virtues like wisdom, strength and courage are usually discussed in terms of valor and greatness-slaying a dragon or fighting in a war. But we can exhibit these virtues on a personal level every day. President Skorton's words ring true: Asking for help is a sign of wisdom and strength. Admitting weakness and allowing someone else to help shoulder your burden, or lead you to safety, is an act of maturity and courage.

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