I went out for a goodbye drink with a friend who's moving away to start a new job. She told me some distressing news. A former colleague in my PhD program has committed suicide. She wasn't someone I knew, really. She was a few years ahead of me in this program in which I was never very social, but I knew her to see her. I knew her, also, from her posts on the program's email list, which I am still on although I'm done with it- as was she even several years after she'd finished. She posted quite recently, in the same characteristic, quirky voice she had always used.
I have been told via a faculty source close to her that what drove her to end her life was her inability to find a job. She had been an adjunct at two universities for several years, trying to cobble together a living in an increasingly expensive city. Sometimes she would post to the email list on this topic - her posts conveyed deep disappointment, sometimes fury.
If it is true that her job situation led her to kill herself, then it is a terrifying measure of the psychic costs of the current academic job situation. I think sometimes we trivialize this, and this serves as a reminder of how the current model can have devastating consequences.
What strikes me even more than that, though, is the thought of this person's loneliness. She was quirky, odd. She wasn't ostracized or disparaged - just gently giggled about from time to time. But what is quite clear in retrospect is that she didn't have much of a community in academia. Not the way most others do.
As my friend pointed out, academia has its fair share of socially awkward people, and also its own social hierarchies - in which, sometimes, the awkward don't easily find a place. This death is a harsh reminder not to let those people become invisible.