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Heartfelt note about depression and suicide




pedˇaˇgoˇgy (pĕd'ə-gō'jē, -gŏj'ē)
  1. The art or profession of teaching.
  2. Preparatory training or instruction.

[French pédagogie, from Old French, from Greek paidagōgiā, from paidagōgos, slave who took children to and from school. See pedagogue.]




I have had two good friends commit suicide, one over 15 years ago and one very recently. After the second event, I was so shook up I wrote the following letter to the faculty and students in the College of Engineering here at the University of Michigan. I am posting this letter on the slight chance that someone may read it and may reconsider a life-ending decision or perhaps help save a friend's life. I really have no idea if this might do some good, but I am also trying to increase awareness of those who suffer from depression.


Friday, December 2, 2005

Dear Students and Staff,

I am writing a very personal note about a recent tragic event. I am a doctoral student in civil engineering and over the past year was able to sponsor a neat project to build an All-Terrain Wheelchair for Julie Harrison, a local young woman with a spinal cord injury.

Julie has had a life-long history of depression (which is what led to her initial spinal cord injury), but had the problem under control through the use of medication. The project, an official ME450 senior design project with some of my former students, was to build a working model of a wheelchair designed for rugged outdoor activities, specifically in Julie's case, camping in the National Forests near the Rocky Mountains.

Yesterday, after several months of being off of her medication, Julie killed herself. You can read about this on the front of yesterday's Ann Arbor News (Thursday, December 2nd).

I am writing to encourage my friends and associates here in engineering to support, encourage, and understand those with depression. When I was a student at the University of Cincinnati I knew of two engineering students who killed themselves due to the pressures of earning their degrees. Further, medical depression such as Julie's can exist despite the apparent absence of any local or personal stress. Finally, just as you don't stop taking insulin because your diabetes is under control, you shouldn't stop taking anti-depression medication because you are no longer depressed. If you know someone who has stopped taking their anti-depression medication, they could have a literal, life-threatening, REAL risk. Julie had such a risk and now she is dead.

Life is wonderful. Please stick around to enjoy it and encourage others to do the same.

Website about our wheelchair project.

Website to article in Ann Arbor News:

Link to Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS) program:

Respectfully submitted, John Norton