The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Katie Meyer had everything to live for. So why couldn’t her suicide have been prevented?

Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer guards the goal against North Carolina in the NCAA soccer tournament championship match Dec. 8, 2019, in San Jose. (Jim Shorin/Stanford Athletics via AP)

Gina and Steven Meyer saw “no red flags.” Their daughter Katie was a senior at Stanford University, where she seemed to be thriving. She became captain of the women’s soccer team after leading the Cardinal to the 2019 national championship. She was studying international relations, she had made the dean’s list, and in recent weeks she had written a series of upbeat social media posts. Among them was this tweet about a recent surgery on her knee: “Health is wealth, and I’m in great spirits and excited to be caring for my body.”

Last week, just hours after talking via FaceTime with her parents, the 22-year-old was found dead in her on-campus residence, and authorities determined she died by suicide. The death has left her family as well as the university community reeling and in search of answers. “We are struggling to know what happened and why it happened,” her mother said during an emotional interview on NBC’s “Today” show.

Mr. and Mrs. Meyer raised the possibility that a pending disciplinary action against their daughter — about which few details are known — might have been a factor. The “whys” behind the death of this vibrant young woman might never be understood; experts caution that there is rarely any one reason for any suicide but rather a multitude of factors. But that doesn’t lessen the need for Stanford and other universities to develop better strategies for dealing with the struggles of the young people entrusted to their care.

Katie Meyer was reportedly the fourth Stanford student to die by suicide in the past 13 months. There has been a spate of suicides at other colleges, and although there is no definitive data about campus suicides, experts at the Jed Foundation, a national nonprofit that works to improve the emotional health and prevent suicides of young people, say mental health challenges have steadily grown among college students over the past five years. The pandemic has had a profound impact, forcing students to confront isolation, uncertainty, financial stress and other challenges. The return of students to campuses after two years of remote schooling has overwhelmed some university mental health centers.

Stanford provides a variety of mental health services, including a 24-hour crisis line, and it is in the second year of working with the Jed Foundation in developing a comprehensive approach to the mental well-being of students. The organization believes in a public health strategy, in which everyone on campus has a role to play in supporting student emotional health. It encourages all those who come into contact with students — from security guards to coaches to academic advisers — to be alert to early signs of trouble in a student’s life, and to know how and when to recommend professional help.

Just days after his daughter died, Mr. Meyer urged parents to talk to their children openly about their mental health, no matter their age. “You may have somebody who has been loved to the ends of the earth and back from the day she was born,” he said. “You can love them fully, but you may not understand them fully.” In opening up about their daughter’s death, the Meyers have started a conversation about the need for better communication between colleges and parents about the mental health of students — one that we hope will spare other parents the pain of losing a child to a preventable suicide.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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