Shoes to represent students who die by suicide

The Journal Gazette

FORT WAYNE — IPFW hopes the weather will cooperate this week so it can make a visual statement on campus about suicide.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among students as young as 10.

In bins across campus, the university last month began collecting shoes for the inaugural Shoes for Hope campaign to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Organizers hope to collect 1,100 pairs to represent the number of U.S. college students who annually die by suicide.

Before donating the shoes to five community organizations, IPFW plans to line the footwear from Kettler Hall to the Rhinehart Music Center during National Suicide Prevention Week, said Jason Anderson, activities coordinator for student life and leadership.

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 10-16.

Anderson acknowledged that planning activities about such a heavy topic might seem to conflict with his job title, but it’s one that requires discussion. The week of suicide prevention events at IPFW might affect students in ways Anderson said he might never know.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2015 for 15- to 24-year-olds and youth ages 10 to 14.

Even if schools haven’t experienced a student death, talking about suicide is important because statistics indicate the risk is high, said Colleen Carpenter, facilitator for STOP Suicide Northeast Indiana.

A 2015 survey found 17.7 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months. The survey also found 14.6 percent made a plan for suicide, 8.6 percent attempted suicide and 2.8 percent made a suicide attempt that required medical treatment, the Association of Suicidology reported.

Additional data showed percentages even higher for Hoosier students. According to the Kids Count in Indiana 2017 Data Book, 19.8 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide in 2015, and the state ranked second of 34 states in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan.

Some educators might mistakenly believe openly discussing suicide will do more harm than good, Carpenter said.

“It actually lowers risk by building a bridge of communication,” she said.

School districts here, including East and Northwest Allen County schools, educate about suicide prevention through health classes. Fort Wayne Community’s high schools, among others, also have hosted the Get Schooled Tour, an interactive presentation created by RemedyLIVE that focuses on suicide and other mental health issues.

The state has its own expectations for schools regarding youth suicide awareness and prevention. The Indiana General Assembly recently passed legislation that includes policy mandates and training requirements for teachers and other appropriate employees in schools serving fifth-graders and older.

FWCS is working with community partners, such as mental health providers and law enforcement, on the training to ensure consistency, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

“It really makes sense that we’d do this with community partners because this is a community issue,” she said.

As the school counselor for East Allen University, Tina Antrim speaks with ninth-grade health classes about what to do if they or somebody they know is contemplating suicide. She asks what they would do if a friend confided in them, expecting suicidal thoughts would be kept secret.

“We talk about that level of responsibility that you have, having that information,” she said.

Every freshman receives a card with the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline because some students may have suicidal thoughts at 2 a.m., when nobody else is available to call, she said.

Students at NACS may also receive help through a student assistance program, which Superintendent Chris Himsel described as a partnership offered through Parkview Health for issues beyond the district’s scope. The goal is to prevent students from heading down a path where suicide becomes a serious consideration, he said.

Teachers also play a role in noticing changes in children and asking whether they need support, Stockman said.

“Without that relationship piece,” she said, “kids aren’t going to open up.”

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