Quick-thinking saves student

A quick response by Columbus East High School students, staff and a school resource officer are credited with saving the life of a 16-year-old student, who is believed to have attempted suicide by overdosing on pills in a school restroom.

East students who found the teen at about 8:45 a.m. Monday immediately ran to find the school nurse, said Larry Perkinson, employee and student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

About the same time, other students who saw a disconcerting social media posting from the girl were contacting East deans about it, Perkinson said.

Columbus Police Department officer Julie Quesenbery, who is based at East as a school resource officer, headed toward the restroom but turned back to pick up naloxone, the drug overdose antidote, when assisting the girl, Perkinson said.

Quesenbery told 911 dispatchers she had administered two doses of naloxone and notified dispatchers that the girl was coming around.

The student was able to walk out of the restroom to a stretcher and was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital, Perkinson said.

Columbus East Principal Mark Newell said he sent out a message to East staff members that the girl was doing OK and asked them to share that information with any student who asked about her throughout the day.

The incident comes about a month after school officials, students and community residents participated in a suicide prevention awareness event at Columbus North High School.

On Sept. 7, local students were invited to learn more about suicide prevention and efforts locally to encourage young people to seek help if thoughts of death by suicide were affecting their life.

Two days later, all Bartholomew Consolidated secondary schools had two or three counselors at tables during school hours to provide information, guidance and support to any student seeking help for themselves or a friend who might be intent on self-harm.

A year ago, at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the Columbus community gathered for the first student forum, “Suicide … Let’s Talk About It.”

That forum was planned as the Columbus community was in mourning over the death by suicide of two Columbus East students within a week just before the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.

Another classmate had died by suicide at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The Columbus-based school corporation on the average has four or five student deaths a year, and one of those will be death by suicide, Perkinson said in an earlier interview based on two decades of work at BCSC.

He said school district has not had a suicide completion among the high school population for the past year, although he acknowledged there have been attempts.

Monday’s incident is the second inside a BCSC school building that Perkinson recalls since the suicide prevention awareness events have been conducted. In 2015, there was a another incident described as a potential suicide attempt in a BCSC classroom, and that student also survived, he said.

School officials aren’t planning on additional, specific suicide prevention awareness efforts at East as a response to Monday’s incident, unless East officials request it, Perkinson said.

Right now, the high school’s deans, counselors and nurse’s office are working with students, he said.

East students may go to the counselor’s office at the high school at any time simply by asking a staff member, Newell said.

The school has not requested any additional help for counselors as of now, but Newell said school officials are still getting a read on the situation and will respond as needed.

“We know that if we need more assistance, we have some great folks in BCSC who will be here,” he said. “And they will respond quickly.”

Perkinson said while suicide-awareness efforts the past two years may have been a factor in Monday’s outcome, in which the student lived, he has found that many BCSC students have always tried to help if a classmate is in trouble. The students running to get help is another example of that, he said.

“I think our kids have always done this,” Perkinson said of the students’ efforts to help the girl on Monday morning.

“The emphasis has been to bolster that impulse to help their friends and neighbors … In my time here, I’ve seen kids do a lot. You’ve gotta love them for that.”

Suicide resources

What to watch for

Most suicidal individuals do not want to die, they just want to end the pain, according to the Indiana Psychological Association. Suicidal crises tend to be brief, so early detection of suicidal behaviors can save lives. Here are some warning signs that someone might be contemplating harming themselves:

  • Suicidal plan: This includes threatening to hurt or kill oneself, talking or writing about it or looking for ways to do it, such as seeking firearms.
  • Hopelessness: Feelings of hopelessness about the future are more predictive of suicide than feelings of sadness or depression.
  • Recklessness: Engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawing from family, friends and society.
  • Increased alcohol or drug use: Individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs are at a much higher risk for suicide.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Being unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Access to guns: Those with access to guns are more likely to complete suicide.

SOURCE: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)

How to help

If you suspect someone you know is at risk for suicide:

  • Do not be afraid to ask. Talking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide.
  • Offer your support and guidance. Listen but don’t judge.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available and provide resources. For example, go with the individual or to a physician or mental health professional, or provide them with a crisis line phone number.
  • Get help from an individual or agency that specializes in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

SOURCE: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK (8255)


Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.