Fwd: MIT student's death ruled suicide

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Tue Jun 26 2001 - 14:52:35 BST

  • Next message: Philip Jonkers: "Re: Fwd: MIT student's death ruled suicide"

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    Subject: Fwd: MIT student's death ruled suicide
    Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 09:52:35 -0400
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    Six suicides, confirmed, since '98. I know of three in that period, here
    at Harvard, and, I am not privy to anything other than the local news.
    There may be more, there may be some unconfirmed and unreported. And I
    wonder at claims of suicides (the Werther effect) increasing with media
    coverage, since statistics are just that. Might there also be a 'report
    werther effect' on the part of media outlets? Is there not a clamor after
    a suicide to open records and to uncover attempts to hide? Is not focus,
    in and of itself, a statistical bump?

    - Wade

    *************

    MIT student's death ruled suicide

    Sophomore was 6th to take own life at school since 1998

    By Patrick Healy, Globe Staff, 6/26/2001

    http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/177/metro/MIT_student_s_death_ruled_suici
    deP.shtml

    CAMBRIDGE - The state medical examiner has ruled that the April 30 death
    of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore was a suicide,
    making her the sixth confirmed student suicide at MIT since early 1998.

    According to a death certificate filed yesterday with the Cambridge city
    clerk, Julie M. Carpenter, 20, died of acute cyanide poisoning almost
    immediately after ingestion.

    Carpenter, who was studying chemistry, was found dead in her bedroom in
    MIT's Random Hall several hours after she had attended a birthday party
    in the dorm. There was no evidence of foul play or a suicide note. Random
    Hall was the site of another student suicide, in April 2000, when
    sophomore Elizabeth Shin set herself on fire.

    The cause of Carpenter's death has been a matter of intense interest on
    the MIT campus. Some students and alumni believe the school has not done
    enough to prevent student suicides.

    After Shin took her life last year, the school appointed a task force of
    staff and students to recommend ways to expand and publicize MIT mental
    health services.

    Kristine Girard, a psychiatrist on MIT's counseling staff and cochair of
    the task force, said yesterday that her panel's report was close to being
    finished. She declined to comment on its contents. Ken Campbell, an MIT
    spokesman, said the panel's work was expected to be completed this summer.

    A Globe report in February on suicide at elite, science-oriented
    institutions found that students at MIT have been far more likely to kill
    themselves since 1990 than at the other 11 schools surveyed, which
    included Harvard, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins universities.

    Undergraduates at MIT also appeared more likely to kill themselves, on
    average, than college students age 17 to 22 nationwide. MIT officials
    strongly dispute that statistic, saying that the school's student suicide
    rate is below the national average when race and gender are factored in
    and when both undergraduates and graduate students are included.

    In April, the school announced a significant expansion in psychotherapy
    benefits for students who have MIT health insurance. In recent years, the
    school paid $35 a session for a maximum of 50 private therapy
    appointments a year. Beginning this September, MIT will pay all costs for
    as many private sessions as students choose to have.

    The six confirmed suicides since 1998, as well as the death of an MIT
    alumnus in 2000 who jumped from a fraternity house roof, prompted the
    student newspaper to warn about a culture of suicide at the institute.

    David Shaffer, a Columbia University professor and president of American
    Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said yesterday that colleges should
    screen students for depression and anxiety within a few months after they
    arrive on campus. He noted that mental illness is associated with about
    90 percent of suicides.

    Shaffer said he knew of no research that conditions specific to colleges
    - such as academic pressure - lead to suicide, as some people assume.
    ''In general, pressure leads to better performance and a more stable
    environment,'' he said. ''However, if you're dealing with someone who has
    considerable performance anxiety or who may be depressed, they may
    perceive academic demands in a different way.''

    MIT would not say if Carpenter was seeking treatment from the school or
    private services.

    Friends yesterday remembered Carpenter as an outgoing young women with
    plans for the future. Nina Davis Millis, a housemaster in Random Hall,
    said she was working on ways to help residents cope with the loss.

    ''We have lost two students here,'' she said, referring to Carpenter and
    Shin. ''I'm very, very concerned about the young people in this building.
    It's a fragile and distressing loss.''

    Patrick Healy can be reached by e-mail at phealy@globe.com.

    This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 6/26/2001. Copyright
    2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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