Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Julie Harrison

14. December 2005 • MarkDilley
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I knew her only briefly and have several friends who knew her much better and are dealing with her suicide. Because of many email problems, I only just received this email:

Dear Friends,

I am writing a very personal note about a recent tragic event. I am a doctoral student in civil engineering and over the past year was able to sponsor a neat project to build an All-Terrain Wheelchair for Julie Harrison, a local young woman with a spinal cord injury.

Julie has had a life-long history of depression (which is what led to her spinal cord injury), but had the problem under control through the use of medication. The project, an official ME450 senior design project with some of my former students, was to build a working model of a wheelchair designed for rugged outdoor activities, specifically in Julie’s case, camping in the National Forests near the Rocky Mountains.

Yesterday, after several months of being off her medication, Julie killed herself. You can read about this on the front of today’s Ann Arbor News.

I am writing to encourage my friends and associates here in engineering to support, encourage, and understand those with depression. While I was a student at the University of Cincinnati I knew of two engineering students who killed themselves due to the pressures of earning their degrees. Further, medical depression such as Julie’s can exist despite the apparent absence of any local or personal stress. Finally, just as you don’t stop taking insulin because your diabetes is under control, you shouldn’t stop taking anti-depression medication because you are no longer depressed. If you know someone who has stopped taking their anti-depression medication, they could have a literal, life-threatening, REAL risk. Julie was, and now she is dead.

Life is wonderful. Please stick around to enjoy it and encourage others to do the same.

Website about our wheelchair project.

Website to article in Ann Arbor News

Respectfully submitted, John Norton

Thoughtful words for this highly stressful time of year. Good wishes everyone…

  1. I finally figured out who she was—I saw her quite a bit around town, even though I never actually met her; she even came in our restaurant a few times. She always seemed so vivacious that it’s hard to believe things turned out this way. Very sad.
       —Lazaro    Dec. 15 '05 - 04:55PM    #
  2. Thanks for posting this Mark. I knew Julie only peripherally because I shop at the Co-op and she worked there, but talking to her always put me in a good mood. She always recognized me and made a point of calling me by name once she knew I was a Julie too. She was always cheerful, helpful, and just a lovely spirit. Even with her history, I think her death was a horrible shock to almost all who knew her.

    The University Depression Center has a downloadable brochure with more information and resources on depression.
       —Juliew    Dec. 15 '05 - 09:02PM    #
       —Mark    Dec. 16 '05 - 09:13AM    #
  4. Thank you for the post. I had met Julie a couple of times, but have friends who were very close to her. Even in the short while I interacted with her, it was evident she was a lovely, lovely person. The fact that one shouldn’t go off medications even if the depression has gone away cannot be stressed enough. The whole situation is terribly sad, especially since it seemed she was in good spirits. My thoughts and prayers are with her.

    That said, although UM has a depression seminiar every year and does publicize getting help, I can say from personal experience that the Counseling and Pyschological Services (CAPS) for students is very, very inadequate. The last time I was there was about a year ago, after about a year and a half of treatment that not only didn’t accomplish anything, but that put me in physical danger – a very bad reaction to medication, and the prescriber didn’t bother to even try to contact me when I missed our once every two weeks meeting, knowing I had a bad history with the medicines.

    For acute conditions, and things like stress from studying, it does the job. But for long term chronic depression, it has failed miserably for both myself and three friends – one of whom doesn’t have insurance to fall back upon. Once every two weeks, after up to a month of a waiting period to simply get an appointment, is not adequate for medication management. Especially when the first few weeks of adjusting to a new medication can be dangerous, as it was for me. It is not enough to give the patient an email “in case anything comes up”. It is simply irresponsible.

    The counseling was not terribly effective either, and when it got to the point that it was insulting to me – an implication that I wasn’t attending the sessions in good faith, rather just to get letters to get out of classwork – I left.

    This may be anecdotal, but as I’ve said, it was very ineffective for myself and three others who were dealing with chronic depression.

    It was only after I finally got to see the psychiatrist at UHS – a wonderful, wonderful woman who gave me treatment and called my health insurance company repeatedly until they agreed to pay for me to see an Ann Arbor doctor – that I’m finally getting the help I needed. Three years after I began searching it out in earnest.

    For education, this university has done a great job. For actually helping students, much, much, much is to be desired. It may simply be that the CAPS office is overwhelmed and underfunded. But after my experiences, and my friends experiences, all the awareness doesn’t amount to much. I’m lucky I have health insurance, even though it was a struggle to get coverage. And although I don’t expect UM to cover everything – UHS doesn’t handle emergencies or weekends, for example – there needs to be more than what’s going on now. It may have changed recently, but I doubt it has drastically, especially in light of budget cutbacks.

    If you know someone with the symptoms of depression, or who is currently dealing with it, please try to be as supportive as possible. Don’t treat them with kid gloves, but knowing that someone cares helps immensely. Realize that irritability and withdrawl are symptoms of depression, and although it may be difficult, try to overlook them and just let your friend know that you’re there for them if they need help. Especially watch out for them, and check up on them, if they’ve just begun medication – antidepressants may increase energy levels before affecting the depression itself, so someone who was suicidal may suddenly have the energy to go through while the depression is still very active.

    Thank you.
       —Anonymous    Dec. 19 '05 - 03:57AM    #
  5. Thank you for posting this Mark. I went to massage school with Julie in Boulder, CO. Shortly after our graduation on Dec.13,2000, Julie made her 1st attempt at sucide. Her classmates were devastated. We did not see any of this coming. She came back out to Boulder for a visit after she was rehabilitated and she seemed so positive for someone who had just gone through such a tragedy. I was amazed at her strength. I remember her as a very kind, compassionate and beautiful soul who was always thoughtful of others. She was loved dearly by all of us. I kept in touch with her for a couple years after school and then lost touch. I just heard about this 2 days ago from a classmate and was shocked by the news. My heart goes out to all her loved ones, especially her family.
    Tracey 3/26/06 11:50 p.m.

       —Tracey    Mar. 27 '06 - 12:13PM    #
  6. Julie was a very close friend of mine. I have started a blog for those who remember Julie. Please feel free to visit.


       —Sara    Nov. 7 '06 - 05:47AM    #