College mirrors national suicidal thought trends

Nearly 35 years ago, in May 1982, a Franklin College student took his life in a fiery one-vehicle crash. 

The student died when he ran a stop sign in Johnson County and crashed his truck into a large rock. After his truck flew into the air and traveled about 200 feet, it burst into flames in a cornfield. 

In the aftermath of the wreck, authorities found two notes left by the student, according to a front page Daily Journal article published the morning after suicide. 

One note flew out of the truck and was found in a field near the wreckage. Another “quite detailed” note was found in the student’s Hoover dorm room, according to the same article. In the note, the student mentioned his uncle, who had died of a gunshot wound that same week. 

Tim Hasewinkel was a 20-year-old sophomore at the time of his suicide. He was majoring in philosophy and regularly made the Dean’s List. 

“Everyone’s just stunned by it,” a professor who worked with Hasewinkel on student publications said in the article. “He was just a very intelligent, thoughtful person.” 

This is the case of the most recent suicide of a student at Franklin College. 

But although a suicide hasn’t hit Franklin’s community in decades, more than 80 families around the state experience the suicide of a young person in their lives each year. 

The Indiana Youth Institute puts out a data book about the wellbeing of young Hoosiers up to 24 years old annually. In this year’s national survey of more than 30 states, Indiana ranked higher than the national rate in all four categories relating to suicide. 

Additionally, Indiana ranks 10th for the percentage of students who actually attempted to take their own lives. 

Suicide issues are frequently linked to mental health problems, the most common of which is depression. In 2015, about 30 percent of Hoosier students reported feeling so sad or hopeless that they stopped doing some of their normal activities for two or more weeks in a row. 

That’s why Franklin College has a Counseling Center — to provide therapy for students who have mental health issues, which can lead to thoughts of suicide. 

Counseling director John Shafer, who specializes in treating depression and psychological first aid in emergency situations, said it’s startling to see that more and more young people are diagnosed with mental illness at a younger age. 

“The youth suicide statistics in our state are alarming,” he said. 

Shafer is one of two campus counselors who provide therapy for students who have thoughts of suicide. 

“Depression is very common among many college students nationwide,” Shafer said. “Franklin College is no exception to that rule.” 

If a student is currently suicidal and has a plan, the center refers the student to an off-campus health care provider to assess and diagnose the student. Shafer said there are fewer students that come into the Counseling Center for depression who then need to be referred outside for suicidal intentions. 

But if the stages were to progress and a Franklin College student were to actually commit suicide, the college’s emergency response team would react. 

Security director Steve Leonard is the chair of the comprehensive safety and security committee, which oversees the college’s responses to a crisis and several policies that could be related to on-campus emergencies. Vice President of Student Affairs Ellis Hall and Director of Communications Deidra Baumgardner are just a few of the other members on the team. 

The college follows the strategy that the United States Department of Homeland Security uses for their emergency response plan, which focuses more on developing relationships with on-campus and community resources, rather than following a 10- step checklist. 

“The emergency that you plan for is rarely the emergency that happens,” Leonard said. “If you know the right people to be involved, it’s a more efficient and effective way to respond.” 

The team gets together twice a year to practice responding to an imaginary emergency situation that could happen on campus, such as severe weather or violence. 

In addition to the team’s response, the Counseling Center would provide professional intervention and provide debriefing and support groups to the campus community regarding the death of a student. 

But despite the college’s mapped out plan of how to respond in the case of a student suicide, Shafer said all schools could be doing more to prevent and respond to suicide. 

“In a perfect world, Franklin College would have a staff member whose primary responsibility is to provide psychoeducational programs to students, including suicide education and prevention,” he said. 

Students experiencing suicidal thoughts should call 911 immediately. Students can also call campus security at 317-738-8888. If a counselor is needed, a campus security officer will contact one of the counselors to come to campus to provide support. 

Students, faculty and staff members can also speak with a counselor if they are concerned about another student having suicidal thoughts. 

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About Ashley Shuler 1253 Articles
Ashley Shuler is the executive editor of The Franklin. She has held various multimedia journalism and public relations internships, including positions at Indianapolis Monthly, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and Dittoe Public Relations. When she isn't staying up late to edit stories, Ashley spends her time boutique shopping and drinking as much vanilla Coke as possible. This is Ashley's third year in a leadership role and her fourth year on The Franklin staff. She previously held positions as web editor and news editor.

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