There is no way to discuss this in a manner that’s particularly comfortable or even couth, so I’ll start with the facts: Martha Corey-Ochoa, an 18-year-old Columbia University incoming freshman, was found dead on Monday at around 11 p.m. following a fall from her 14th-floor dormitory on Manhattan’s West 114th Street, where her parents had dropped her off and helped her move in earlier in the day. Valedictorian of her graduating class at Dobbs Ferry High School in New York, the violinist and writer had planned to double major in English and mathematics. Her death was pronounced a suicide.
Corey-Ochoa, an only child, was described by all accounts as brilliant, shy, and intense. She was a member of the Spanish National Honor Society, a National Merit Scholarship finalist, an incredibly gifted writer, violinist, and composer. Her senior year had seen her through a challenging courseload that included four International Baccalaureate classes and Advanced Placement Calculus, along with a number of extracurricular activities. Despite her talents and flourishing academia, Martha had attempted suicide last year, for which she was briefly institutionalized. She contacted her parents shortly after their departure and told them that she was feeling suicidal. “She looked a little sad when she was saying goodbye to us,” said her grieving father, George Corey-Ochoa, a Columbia alumnus, “But she was controlled. She had it together.”
Tragic though this single case is, it is far from an isolated incident. Dr. Kelly Posner, Columbia’s director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment, told the Journal News that suicide is the second leading cause of death of college freshmen. “This is just not an uncommon story. Students who transition from high school to college are often very excited about this new transition in their lives, but they’re exposed to expectations and circumstances that place them at risk for psychiatric disorders, for feeling depressed or anxious, and it may exacerbate pre-existing problems.”
As Columbia reaches out to console their students, and offer options for counseling, we cannot make it clear enough to everyone, of all ages, from preteens throughout adulthood, that there is help and there is hope. All of the clichés have already been said, but when something like this happens, it makes it all the more clear that we need to broadcast that depression is not a stigma, and it isn’t something you need to carry on your own. Nobody who suffers should go without treatment of some kind. There is always somebody to talk to who can help you, and suicide must, absolutely must, be ruled out as an option. We lost one incredibly bright, kind individual in Martha Corey-Ochoa, but this applies to all people, everybody.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.