Sep 9, 2023

To Do What Ought To Be Done: Leading a Chapter Through Tragedy

Mental Health
To Do What Ought To Be Done: Leading a Chapter Through Tragedy

By Brandon Counts, Chapter Support Coordinator

February 6, 2020, was like any other day at the Ohio Epsilon Chapter. I went to class, returned to the chapter house, and started having a philanthropy committee meeting to discuss our upcoming major event. In the middle of the meeting, I received a phone call from one of our chapter brothers but figured that if necessary, he would leave a voicemail or text me, so I didn’t answer it. Following that call, he called me back almost instantly, so I stepped into the hallway and heard something that no one should ever have to hear. He told me that one of our chapter brothers had died by suicide. I immediately broke down, but as the chapter president, I needed to be vital. I knew that I needed to get my head straight, and that was the moment that I remembered that both Phi Delta Theta and my university had crisis management plans that had been drilled into my brain during president training, so I went up to my room, closed the door, and began making phone calls to campus staff and Phi Delta Theta staff and volunteers. By the time I was done making phone calls, our assistant director of fraternity and sorority life, province president, and chapter advisory board chair were already on the way to the chapter house to help support our chapter.

That evening, we had an emergency chapter meeting where I had to inform the chapter that we had lost one of our own. Bringing the chapter together was very important and one of our best decisions. This type of information is much more challenging to give in person, but having everyone together at a time like this means more. After the chapter meeting, our Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life mobilized our counseling center on campus; two grief counselors were there for anyone who needed to talk about what had happened and digest their emotions with a professional. That night, I’m not sure if anyone left the chapter house. We all knew we just wanted to be together and support each other. In the following days, we held a candlelight vigil for our brother, and we were able to perform the Memorial Ceremony to help remember him. Having a fraternity, sorority, and campus community there to support us was more than we could have ever asked for.

Looking back on that pivotal moment in my leadership journey, the one thing that I learned that I urge all leaders to do, whether in a time of crisis like this or just on another regular day, is to take time for themselves. During this time of crisis, I felt like I needed to be there 24/7 for the chapter, and I did not take advantage of any of the support systems around me to take some of the stress off my shoulders. I did not take the time to grieve the death of my chapter brother until almost a month later. I could have leaned more into the support of my Fraternity and Sorority Life Office, my CAB, my province president, and Phi Delta Theta General Headquarters, but I unfortunately did not. These people are here to help you and have training in supporting you. Please use them!

I still think about that week a lot, but I know there is nothing else I can do now to change anything or prevent anything from happening. I want everyone to know that no matter where you are, there are always resources for you; someone is always willing to talk it through.

Together, we can be our brother’s keeper. Together, we can prevent suicide.

If you are in a crisis and need immediate support, please call or text 988 or TALK to 741741.

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