Help is real, hope is real

Reeling from personal loss, broken friendships, depression, and the transition of coming to college for the first time, Katie Biggs decided she no longer wanted to live.

The junior psychology and creative writing major was a freshman when she was clinically diagnosed with depression.

“I decided to go to the suicide awareness candle light showing event on an impulse,” Biggs said. “It was the one-year mark of my friend’s suicide.”

Biggs wrote the name of her friend on one of the lamps and finally came to terms with the fact that she would never be able to see or talk to Gavin again.

“I realized if I didn’t fix my own issues and confront my depression someone would be standing here staring at a bag with my name on it,” she said.

Biggs started attending counseling sessions at the university Counseling Center the following month.

Suicide is a growing issue nationally and locally. In response to the growing number of college students who attempt suicide, the University of Southern Indiana seeks to provide resources for students who have suicidal ideations, in hopes of preventing future suicides.

Thirteen percent of the 476 students who utilized the university Counseling Center in 2015-2016 reported a history of one or more suicide attempts, according to the statistics gathered by the Counseling Center.

Dean of Students and chair of Care Team Bryan Rush said the program has evolved into what it is today through the last four years.

Rush said they receive five to ten reports every week.

Counseling Center Director Thomas Longwell said the university Counseling Center trains student leaders, teachers, and public safety officers how to respond to students who show signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors through the Care Team.

“(A Resident Assistant) could notice one of their residents is acting different,” Longwell said. “It might seem like a minor thing, but a teacher could have reported something similar of the same student.”

Longwell said once substantial evidence for a student is complied, members of the Care Team are prompted to respond in a thoughtful way.

“A teacher might ask how the student is doing, if everything is okay, and if they need anything,” Longwell said. “We remind them we are here for them, and we schedule them for an appointment to see us in the counseling center.”

Longwell said once in the office, they talk about whether the behaviors are temporary or if they are consistent. If everything seems fine they will schedule the student for another appointment to make sure nothing has changed.

“If students are suicidal we go through with them specific people they can talk to. We have them call family members, call friends to make sure they know what is going on,” Longwell said. “We encourage them to stay with someone for a couple of days until the suicidal thoughts pass.”

According to the national statistics gathered by Emory University, 864,950 people in the United States attempt suicide every year.

That is one suicide attempt every 38 seconds.

“Suicide at the core is helplessness,” Longwell said. “It is helplessness, and it is emotional pain.”

The Counseling Center has been required to respond to the growing number of students who come to the Counseling Center for help.

According to the statistics gathered by the university Counseling Center, the number of students served in the 2015-2016 school year went up 41% from the 2014-2015 school year.

Biggs said she has watched the Counseling Center improve through the four years she has been receiving counseling.

“They have been better about getting the word out there,” Biggs said. “I see them at involvement fairs now when in the past I did not.”

According to the statistics gathered by the university Counseling Center, the number of outreach programs in 2015-2016 went up 99 percent from 2014-2015.

Biggs said the first time she walked into the counseling center was “incredibly nerve wracking.”

“I waited in the bathroom until the halls were clear so no one would see me walk in,” Biggs said.

Biggs described speaking about her issues for the first time as a “beast” she was forced to face.

“It lives under your bed and it encapsulates you,” Biggs said. “When you finally pull it out from under there you realize it’s not as scary as you thought it was.”

Biggs said that through the counseling she has received at USI, she has been able to “see the light even when her depression paints the sky black.”

“Help is real,” Biggs said. “Hope is real, and your story is real.”