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‘Exhausted and anguished’: SLU responds to suicide deaths of two students on campus

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ST. LOUIS — Undergraduate classes at St. Louis University are canceled Friday after the deaths of two students by suicide this month.

There is no indication that the deaths are related, said Jeff Fowler, SLU’s vice president of communications.

“Two student deaths in less than two weeks is just overwhelming,” Fowler said. “This is a very, very difficult time for all of our students. We want to be able to do everything we can to not only help them but support them and move forward. We don’t ever want to see anything like this happen ever again.”

The first death happened the evening of Sept. 11 in a public area of campus that was visible to people in a dining hall, according to students.

On Monday, a 22-year-old man died of a suicide inside a residence hall, St. Louis police said.

Abby Bottleson, a junior, said the campus is “on edge” and students are sharing their concerns on social media.

“Everyone is sharing a general consensus of fear that this will happen again and that this second event will further other students’ feelings of being alone,” Bottleson said.

An online petition signed by about 6,300 people asks for more than the allotted 10 free counseling sessions for SLU students, along with other changes to mental health services including hiring more staff.

Fowler said he was heartbroken to read the messages left on the petition, and that campus leaders are in discussions with students about their requests.

“Our students are really hurting,” Fowler said. “We have to be with them in a time of crisis. We have to take actions and listen to them when they write us or email us or file a petition. They’re telling us: ‘We need support and we need counseling and we need to be in community with each other.’”

University leaders canceled classes on Friday to acknowledge “how exhausted and anguished our campus feels at this moment,” reads an email sent Tuesday from Provost Mike Lewis and other officials.

“We heard the need for a day focused on mental health and taking a break from classes to connect with each other,” Lewis wrote.

Staff and student leaders will organize activities Friday including spiritual walks, trauma-informed yoga and mental health support.

In response to the deaths, the university has also expanded its in-person counseling hours and drop-in availability. Therapists are available to students at all times through a hotline with the University Counseling Center. Telehealth appointments are also available, and SLU is waiving the $15 student fee through at least September, officials said.

The university is deferring to the families of the two students regarding the release of any details.

The family of the first student, a freshman, gave permission to SLU leaders to state the cause of death as suicide.

“It is important to understand that we make this announcement with respect and dignity, free of judgment, and with sadness that a life has been lost,” Sarah Cunningham, vice president for student development, wrote in an email Thursday to the SLU community.

The family conducted a private memorial service and asked that the student not be identified publicly, Cunningham said.

A prayer service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at St. Francis Xavier College Church.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. A local hotline through Provident Behavioral Health is also available 24 hours a day at 314-647-4357.

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