It is a tragedy repeated too often: Young men and women go off to college -- usually their first experience living on their own -- and within short order they turn up dead, victims of an apparent suicide. In the 1970s, suicide among students became a frequent occurrence on college campuses, although at the time hallucinogens often were the culprit. Today, the drug of choice appears to be alcohol, a drug that is considered benign but can be just as lethal.

We offer our condolences to the family and friends of Jeffrey Steven Welkos of Ellicott City; it is their turn to mourn. Mr. Welkos, an 18-year-old Salisbury State University freshman, apparently jumped from a fifth-floor dormitory window Monday and died. He was said to have been drinking heavily the previous night, although his friends say he showed no sign of contemplating jumping.

"I can't really believe it," said Matt Murray, 17, a friend. "He was always happy. He cared about everybody. He had the biggest heart of everyone I knew. He was everybody's best friend."

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that Jeffrey's 18-year-old roommate, David J. Bedingfield, saw another side of the Glenelg High graduate. Jeffrey, he said, "had a lot of fears" and "always said he wasn't going to live past 25."

It would be easy to dismiss such expressions as the occasional moodiness of adolescence. Combined with a depressant such as alcohol, though, the result can be devastating. We can only hope this tragedy will convince some young people to show moderation, if not abstinence, in their consumption of alcohol. Suicide, death as a result of drunken driving and alcohol poisoning are not abstract ideas.

Too often of late, we have had to contemplate the issue of suicide among Howard residents. Last month, former Columbia Council President John Hansen died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Such occurrences leave a psychic scar that extends beyond relatives and friends.

At the same time, these events remind us that depression, sporadic or long-term, is a recognizable mood disorder that affects five of every 100 people. Loss of appetite, weight loss, social withdrawal and sleeplessness are among its signs. But even when all the best intentions are applied, some will slip through the cracks and succumb to this damnable condition.

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