A report on a student who got $100,000 into debt for college and killed himself was the jumping off point for a discussion of emotional depression and debt. There have not been many stories like this. We are not facing a wave of suicides. But there is a group of people who voluntarily help students who are suffering from suicidal impulses.
In 2009, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on Dave Ramsey. It replayed a segment of his show. A woman called in to talk about her husband. They were deeply in debt. He had talked of suicide. Ramsey made it clear to her that her first priority was to get professional help for him. He did not say, “don’t pay with a credit card.” He made it clear that such threats must be taken seriously.
Joan: “I know you don’t advocate bankruptcy, but my husband is so depressed over our debt, and he’s talking about it. I’m wondering if there’s something we could do.”
Ramsey: “He’s talking about bankruptcy?”
Joan: “Talking about suicide.”
Ramsey: “He’s talking about suicide. When did that happen?”
Joan: “Well, just in the last month or so.”
Ramsey: “Well. I’m not a counseling expert, but I will tell you, when someone talks about suicide, I go into emergency lifesaving mode. You get in high gear. Do you understand me?
Joan: “Well, he’s not the type that would — ”
Ramsey: “No, you … no, listen. You did not understand me. OK? This is serious. When it comes out of someone’s mouth that they are considering suicide, honey, they’re considering suicide today. You get him in counseling. Do you understand me?”
Ramsey: “Your husband’s life depends on your action right now.”
Stahl says that it is almost as if Ramsey took Joan by the shoulders and had to shake her.
“Yeah. Well, she was in denial about how serious it is,” Ramsey says. “The number one cause of male suicide is financial.”
The article on debt counseling shows that concern over debt is a paralyzing and emotionally destructive factor in some people’s lives.
I first started appreciating the depth of the problem of suicidal debtors a few years ago, with a post on my blog, All Education Matters, entitled, “Suicide Among Student Debtors: Who’s Thought About It?” I was stunned by the responses. In comment after comment, people confessed to feeling suicidal. . . .
Some of the people who write to me are quite specific about how they plan to kill themselves. One person said, “I think about jumping from the 27th floor window of my office every day.” For suicide prevention experts, this is a dangerous sign, as it means that the person has actually devised a plan to carry out the act. In recent months, the notes have increased, and if anything they are even more desperate. One individual admitted that he thought about killing himself all the time. Another even claimed — which was beyond disturbing — that prior to writing his comment, he had been sitting in his car, with the garage door shut.
Parents whose children are going into debt to finance college or graduate school should be aware of this problem.
Students should consult with a financial counselor before taking on any debt. They should go through the economics of the loan before they sign the contract.
In most cases, it is not necessary to go into debt for college — parents or students. There are debt-free ways to skin the academic cat.