Save the Seven – IPFW Works to Prevent Student Suicides

Esteban Coria dismissed the loud bang in the night, thinking it was just the dumpsters slamming outside.

After all, it had been a windy day.

But it was far from just wind.

Coria, a college student at IPFW at the time, found an unconscious man in a car the next morning, a gun laying on the seat beside him.

He attempted to take the man’s pulse, but found nothing.

“I just remember thinking, why couldn’t he have gotten help from someone?” Coria said. “Why does someone feel so desperate that there is no one who can help them at all?”

Mary Ross, director of Project COMPASS – Community Project Against Student Suicide – said IPFW lost seven students to suicide last year.

“That was really overwhelming last year,” Ross said. “That is a very high number for the size of our campus.”

Jeannie DiClementi, an associate professor of psychology at IPFW and the principal investigator for Project COMPASS, said suicide is the second leading cause of death among the ages of 15 to 24.

Prior to Project COMPASS’ founding in 2012, the university did not have a suicide prevention program.

DiClementi said Project COMPASS focuses on reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and educating students on suicide in order to prevent it on campus.

She said certain groups are more vulnerable to suicide. This includes LGBTQ students, ethnically diverse students, and students in the military.

The National Center for Health Statistics recently reported the overall suicide rate for Americans increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014.

Project Director Ross herself attended a high-pressure, private college 300 miles away from home. She said there were a number of suicides, but it was during a time when people didn’t talk about suicide.

Ross said she remembered a student who committed suicide by jumping from a dorm window.

“Blood stains don’t come up that easy,” Ross said.

Carrie Romines, a wellness specialist at the university, said the hardest part of her job is fighting the stigma against mental health.

“Not only do people not want to admit there’s something wrong,” Romines said, “but other people just don’t know how to handle it, and they don’t want to hear about it.”

MaryAnne Skora, a former communications student at IPFW, said she was affected by the stigma.

Skora first started feeling depressed her senior year of high school. During her freshman year of college in 2013, she began to have suicidal thoughts.

“I remember, actually, being at IPFW in the library, I think on the fifth floor. That’s kind of when the suicidal thoughts started at first,” Skora said. “I felt so much pressure to be perfect. I didn’t really know how to express myself, so I completely isolated.”

She hid her self-harm scars from her parents because she thought they would be ashamed. She would attempt suicide the following year.

Skora thought she could make a quick recovery and return home. Instead, she would later be readmitted for attempting suicide again in August of 2015.

Knowing something had to change, Skora began to share her experience, something she feels is important for those with depression.

“I started realizing I have to talk about this, because think of how many other people are struggling and they don’t have anyone to talk to,” Skora said. “I definitely think it’s important to at least tell someone how you are feeling and find the right person to do it, that you trust.”

On the IPFW campus, Project COMPASS also offers Gatekeeper training, a three-hour class on the signs of suicide and how to approach students who are being affected by depression.

“We’re not training mental health professionals, we’re training the average student and the average faculty member,” Principal Investigator DiClementi said. “When they’ve got a student or roommate talking about being depressed, they will know what to do.”

Ross said one of the challenges COMPASS is facing is figuring out how to get information out through different mediums.

She said COMPASS is looking to create a hybrid Gatekeeper training program, with both online and in-person sessions.

Coria, now a continuing lecturer in Spanish at IPFW, would later learn of a new suicide prevention tool, Telemental Health.

Telemental Health uses telecommunications such as videoconferencing and texting to provide behavioral health services, including access to counselors.

One of the various programs, Crisis Text Line, allows someone experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts to anonymously text a trained professional.

Two of Coria’s students committed suicide in 2016, and he said he can’t help but wonder what would happen if there more options like Telemental Health for students.

“I think it’s a feeling of guilt, shock and sadness,” Coria said. “The next step is asking how can I change this, how can I make this better, how can I prevent future suicides?”

 

IPFW Health and Counseling Resources:

IPFW Parkview Assistance Program: https://www.ipfw.edu/counseling/

IPFW Community Counseling Center: www.ipfw.edu/counseling-center

Project COMPASS: 260-481-6778, Kettler Hall Room G82

 

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