The Death Culture at IMSA

Photo from Ryan Holloway, distributed under Creative Commons Zero by Unsplash Project

The following is an anonymous letter from an IMSA student. This letter has been reviewed only for the appropriateness of its language, and no edits have been made to its content, claims, or assertions. The Acronym supports respectful discourse about the challenges facing our community and welcomes comments on this article which uphold that standard.

Submitted by: L. S. Veritas

Dear IMSA Students, Faculty, Staff, Friends, and Families,

I decided to go to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy when I was fifteen years old, but I actually made the decision when I was 12. From the moment I set foot on campus for a 2 hour tour, I knew this was the place I wanted to live and learn at for my high school years. The tour guides were intelligent, and well-versed, and they painted a golden picture of the school I would later attend.

During the 3 year span between when I’d decided and when I’d attend, my friend took his life. One night, when we were in eighth grade, I got a call saying that he was gone, and he’d committed suicide. I was scared, shocked, and destroyed by this news. I finished eighth grade and spent the summer moving on.

Fast-forward. I’m 16 years old. I’ve had my first boyfriend, my first breakup, my first failing grade on a major test, several rejections from positions I’d applied for, and several changes in friend groups. I’ve tried to cheer others up at the expense of my sleep and mental health. I’ve thrived through one semester of IMSA and crawled through another. I’ve felt my mental state go from bright and sunny to dark and confused.

During the entire time I’ve been at IMSA, I’ve heard these jokes. Jokes about depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, PTSD, and most disgustingly, suicide.

Maybe these jokes are made to make light of the stress we are under, and to make light of the fact that many of us have mental struggles ourselves. But, are they really working?

The first time I heard a kid casually say he was going to kill himself because of a grade in a class, I reported him to an RC. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to think. I cried to a junior about how scared I was that this kid wouldn’t show up to class one day and I’d find out that he too was gone. But of course, it was only a joke.

I’m called uptight for thinking jokes about mental illness aren’t funny. I’m considered an old soul for thinking that memes about suicide and depression shouldn’t be posted by anyone everywhere, and shouldn’t be made. I’m called immature for not knowing the line between a joke and a threat. I’m called old fashioned for thinking that kidding about mental health isn’t a form of therapy, but rather talking about it instead of making light of it is. I’m called stupid for overreacting when someone says they’re going to kill themselves because “it never actually happens”.

Well, let me be the one to tell you. It happens.

Student Council’s Mental Health Initiative Week was the happiest I’ve ever felt at IMSA. Unfortunately, when I started falling apart in February, there was nothing for me to recover with. Mental Health shouldn’t be a focus for one week. We need yearly support.

And we need to end the death culture at IMSA. I challenge you to take the step to end the death culture by prohibiting yourself from adding to it. More importantly, I challenge you to take initiative in Mental Health every day of the year, and support those who are falling.

Take care students of IMSA, and remember, I care about you.

Want to submit a letter? Email it to

1 Comment on "The Death Culture at IMSA"

  1. A Concerned Alumnus | May 8, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Reply

    I find myself disagreeing with your claims of a “death culture” at IMSA. As an alum who almost never went home sans extended weekends, I’ve seen my fair share of issues among the student body. The issue of suicide, thankfully, never touched me personally during my time at the academy. Now approaching my final semester in college, I have had two close friends take their own lives within the last three years. The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes there aren’t warning signs that people can recognize. However, that’s not to say that every flippant remark mentioning taking one’s own life or being ‘depressed’ about something is a legitimate call for help or threat of suicide.

    I’ve made my fair share of those remarks over the years. Partly, as you mentioned, to cope with the immense stress that IMSA students sometimes find themselves under and partly because to me, even after my experiences over the last few years, because they are just words. Having made such remarks at IMSA, I would honestly feel betrayed and humiliated being reported to an RC over idle comments that ultimately meant nothing. I understand that there are situations in which such remarks should not be taken lightly, but whose call is that to make? My issue is that students like yourself (not only at IMSA but in college and beyond as well) label and interact with these so-called ‘cultures’ almost like cliques in junior high (kind of embarrassing when you think of the caliber of students attending). There is a fine line between being concerned and being some proverbial “thought police.” I’ve been told by classmates, teammates, friends and even roommates that some of the things that I say are “not welcome here” or “you need to leave if you’re going to continue to speak like that.” Frankly, it’s total bull.

    There is only one culture at IMSA. We all know it, we’ve all said it. It’s a culture that ignites and nurtures creative, scientific, ethical minds to advance the human condition. If you want to be sheltered from dissenting opinions, IMSA is not for you. If you want to be able to control which side of controversial issues you hear about, IMSA is not for you. It’s a terrifying world outside of that campus for those not prepared to enter it. I implore you, and anyone reading this comment to consider getting some thicker skin before we (and I say we because it is as much a responsibility of alumni everywhere as it is current students) transform IMSA from the amazing things that it once was into a state-sponsored safe space for socially rejected high school freshmen.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.