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Should Suicidal Students Be Forced to Leave Campus?

On a Saturday night in the winter of 2012, W.P., a freshman at Princeton, was alone in his dorm room and couldn’t stop crying. He’d just had a conversation with his girlfriend that made him feel distant from her, and from everyone. He called his mom and a few friends, but no one could talk. He picked up an old bottle of Trazodone, an antidepressant that he’d stopped taking a few weeks earlier, and swallowed twenty pills. Then he considered how upset his mother would be if he died. “I thought about how important I am to her,” he said. “It would be really unfair for me to do that to her. It’s not the way I’d want her to be treated.”

He tried to vomit, and when that failed he walked to the student health center and reported that he’d tried to commit suicide. Drowsy but communicative, he was transported by ambulance to the University Medical Center of Princeton, where he was closely monitored. By the next morning, he was feeling physically fine. His parents drove three hours to visit him at the hospital, and his friends brought him his homework. “The patient reports that he feels better today,” a psychiatrist wrote. “He felt that he knows now that he is supported and people do care.” W.P. told the psychiatrist that he had acted impulsively. “I could be so petty,” he said. “It was a very selfish thing to do.”

After three days in the hospital, W.P. was preparing to leave when his mother was informed, through a phone call from Princeton’s director of student life, that W.P. was no longer allowed to attend classes or return to his dorm.