Lee Kromer ’21

Trigger Warning: The following piece contains images of self-harm and attempted suicide. 

A culmination of events led a friend of mine to experience intense suicidal thoughts to the point that he actually carried through with some self-harm. The night my friend cut himself, he seemed relatively cheerful. He went back to his room, and no one thought anything of it…until I was wiping blood off his face. 

Anyone can do basic first-aid, but how many of us really, truly know how to recognize and react to the signs and symptoms of the underlying ailment, the one hidden beneath a cranium and the folds of the cerebral cortex? 

I sure as hell didn’t, despite being trained as an EMT and having further Tactical Medical intense trauma training. I’m trained for emergencies, but sometimes it’s hard to know when something chronic has turned into an emergency. So let’s get uncomfortable and talk about mental health.

I was there after my friend cut himself. I was the one who wiped the blood off his face and checked on him every day in the following weeks to make sure he was healing well. 

I was there before he started cutting himself, when all that was visible was the absence of a twinkle in his eye. 

Despite this, when campus police showed up the next morning—following a submitted Student of Concern form—and I asked if there was anything I could do to help, they shrugged me off. 

They issued some counseling sessions and some suicide-watch call-ins for him. That’s fine; I’m not a counselor, and he definitely needed professional assistance. 

But what happens when he isn’t spending 30 minutes talking on the phone during a call-in? Who is he around most often? Who sees him more than anyone else?

His friends.

Instead of reaching out to us, the Dean’s Office considered cutting their losses on him. 

The school gave him a choice: withdraw onfhis own accord or, following an investigation by the Behavioral Intervention Team (which decides what sanctions to impose on students), almost certainly be very kindly asked not to return the following Monday. No other options were offered. 

Over the course of the week, my friend said his goodbyes to everyone. He didn’t want to go, but what choice did he have? 

I watched as he slowly became more and more of a shell of a man, like some character in a Samuel Beckett play. The story does have a happy ending, as my friend is still a student here (only due to some intense groveling on his part) and is doing much better. 

This is the part of the show where I ask, “What the f*ck, Davidson?” 

Why is the first response to someone in crisis to dump them on the street? Why is the option of taking away all the available resources the first and not the last option? 

I get that Davidson has a reputation to uphold and an image to present to the world, but when I’m in an ambulance, and someone looks like they’re about to flatline, I don’t pull over and kick them to the curb because, “Hey! They didn’t die in my ambulance, so I’m clear.” 

I’m not ashamed of the following personal experience anymore, and this seems like as good a place as any to share it: When I was in high school, a combination of pressure to do well, poor diet, terrible sleep habits, trouble with personal identity, and simply bad vibes from my “friends” at the time led me to fall into a shadowy place of my own. 

And I reached out to a teacher I trusted. Despite explicitly stating that my intentions were NOT to harm myself, the mere mention of that word brought the system down on top of me. 

The school’s first response was to call my mother and to say, “Mrs. Kromer, do you not love your son?” Maybe that’s why people don’t feel comfortable reaching out to our provided resources because the first thing done by the providers of said resources is a whole lot of ass-covering and shifting responsibility.

Students tear ACLs and break arms and sprain ankles playing flickerball, and we all rush to their aid. We want to be the first to sign their casts. But when someone has the mental equivalent of the above physical ailments, we treat them like week-old sashimi because “What if they’re…*whispers* crazy?”

Humans are social creatures. We thrive in the company of others—even us introverts. 

According to the UK’s National Health Service, the majority of people who inflict self-harm don’t actually want to die. They feel such shame or guilt that they figure they ought to experience some punishment—something less than a death sentence—or they want to cry for help but don’t know what words to use. 

Perhaps it goes back to the human instinct to rush to action at the sight of blood, or maybe it has to do with none of us really knowing how to approach that kind of conversation.

“Just be happy.” Cool. What do we do now that we are happy?

I encourage the college to host workshops and forums and to dispense videos and links from educational sources about what to do when confronted with mental health incidents. 

Students all had those alcohol and consensual sex courses the summer before we arrived here. Why not a mental health one? 

And if such a course has been added since my class, can we not have some retroactively provided to those of us who did not receive that resource, who still have no idea? The less alien it feels, the less we fear it.

It’s also up to us, the people who inhabit this place, the people who know someone who might be in need. 

Who knows how beneficial the seemingly insignificant phrase, “Hey, are you feeling okay?” can be? A broken arm rarely heals without help, and mental health is similar. But we can’t approach it from the top-down. 

Each person is an individual first, so we should start with the individual, not the population as a whole. Start with what makes a person unique; start with those who know the individual for whom they are. 

And yes, SSRIs (antidepressants) have helped my friend rise out of the darkness somewhat, but they’re not everything. They can’t be. 

The foundation of mental health comes from a strong base of friends and compatriots in whom we can confide and by whom we feel we can define ourselves. But if those friends don’t know what they’re doing, how much help can they be?

I’ll end with a little scripture. Davidson is, after all, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Luke 15: 3-6, the parable of the lost sheep. 

“Suppose one of you has one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he finds it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends, his family, and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’”

Just as we rejoice and care for each other during a night out, so too must we rejoice and care for each other in all aspects of our being. 

If one of us is lost, we should arduously search for them, using all the possible tools we have at our disposal, and rejoice together when they have been found. We should not, as it were, very kindly ask them to not rejoin our flock the following Monday.

Lee Kromer ’21 is a theater and French double major from Charlotte, North Carolina. Contact him at lekromer@davidson.edu