In March 2007 the world lost a special person, Jill Cohen, who was just 20 years old when she took her own life. It may be difficult to comprehend how a person could feel so sad and hopeless that they could kill themselves, or why the people around them could not see it coming. When someone dies of suicide, it is impossible to answer the question, "Why?" We can only review what led up to this tragedy and try to prevent the loss of others who are at risk. Read Jill's story. Could this be your friend? Your sibling? Your parent? You?
When Jill visited the University of Oklahoma for the first time, she fell in love - with the students, the campus, everything about the university. Although she was born and bred in Texas with nothing but Texas pride, she knew right then she belonged at OU. She didn't even bother applying to other colleges. As she began her freshman year, Jill was thrilled to become a member of the Chi Omega sorority. She viewed the Greek system as a way to meet more people on campus and develop life-long friendships. When she received one of the lead roles in "U-Sing", it seemed only natural because she had been in some form of entertainment since the third grade. With her witty humor, mesmerizing singing voice, and brilliant smile, she lit up the stage and captivated audiences. you always knew when Jill arrived because her beautiful laughter would echo throughout the room and naturally draw people to her. Her friendliness and fun-loving personality made her the life of the party.
However, Jill's initial feelings of happiness and peacefulness at school didn't last. By the end of freshman year, Jill was sleeping much of the day and having a more difficult time attending class. She also felt sad and unmotivated, all signs that she had become significantly depressed. Attributing her feelings to homesickness for her family and friends back in Texas. Jill transferred to Texas State University in fall 2005.
By Thanksgiving break, Jill could not return to finish the semester since her depression had worsened. Jill had received treatment for depression since her junior year in high school, though her shining personality masked that reality from most of the outside world. In order to concentrate on getting better, Jill knew she needed to move home and receive intensive professional help. With her family by her side, she hoped that she would be herself again.
By the fall of 2006, Jill believed she was ready to return to Oklahoma and excitedly resumed classes at OU. During the spring 2007 semester, Jill was feeling ill from prior surgery and fell behind in school. She started to feel very overwhelmed. To help her deal with some of her feelings and her stress, Jill hung out with friends at parties and drank excessively. Alcohol was easy for her to obtain even though she was only 20 because she had a fake ID. When confronted by a concerned family member about her drinking, she confessed, "I can stop whenever I want, but I don't want to. It helps me dull the pain. I'm self-medicating." She continued to insist that she was just fine and that she could handle everything. Jill did not seek mental health services while at OU despite having access as an OU student. Only after her death did her family and friends learn that Jill had stopped taking her anti-depressant medication.
Jill made plans to visit her family in Florida over spring break 2007, but at the last minute she canceled her plans and stayed in Norman while most of her friends were out of town. On St. Patrick's Day, she began binge drinking early in the afternoon at O'Connell's bar. She continued drinking that night at a party, presumably as another way to "self-medicate," due to her depression and increased stressors in her life. After she returned to her apartment alone that evening. Jill ended her life.
Consuming alcohol can increase violent, impulsive, and risk-taking behavior. For anyone struggling with depression, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts, alcohol use can increase the risk of suicide, as was the case for Jill.
All of her life, Jill was the first person to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves. Her unconditional love and compassion were precious gifts. While she was known as quite the talker, many people attest to the fact that she was a wonderful listener as well. Above all, Jill believed wholeheartedly in the power of love. She knew how much her family and friends loved her, but ultimately this was not enough. Jill needed help to lover her own life again.