Two years after the Columbus community began a serious conversation about the community’s young people and suicide, special training will be offered to college students in peer-to-peer suicide prevention.

The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County has provided a $10,350 grant to Ivy Tech Community College, Columbus, to implement a Hope Squad program for Ivy Tech and IUPUC.

Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer program which trains students how to provide outreach to others who are in distress, with a direct connection to a local mental health system.

Jennifer Wright-Berryman of Columbus, a social worker and professor, wrote the grant request to provide local training for the program. She was trained in Utah by the national Hope Squad organization and will use the Columbus training as an opportunity for research.

The grant funding will be used to bring trainers for the program to Columbus to work with students, Wright-Berryman said.

The Heritage Fund was impressed with the collaboration involved in bringing the program to IUPUC and Ivy Tech and grateful to the two institutions for bringing peer-to-peer suicide prevention training to the Columbus community, said Tracy Souza, Heritage Fund president and CEO.

Two bills that deal with suicide prevention and training are still alive in this session of the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 506 calls for a statewide program for suicide prevention and requires post-secondary educational institutions to adopt a policy about suicide information and resources. School corporations would be provided to adopt a policy addressing measures intended to increase child suicide awareness. It is currently assigned to the House Committee on Public Health after being approved by the Senate.

House Bill 1430 requires each school corporation, charter school or accredited nonpublic school to participate in at least two hours of in-service suicide awareness and prevention training every two years. It is currently assigned to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development after being approved by the House.

However, Ivy Tech and IUPUC are getting ahead of the curve in preparing a program now, Wright-Berryman said.

The Hope Squad program is taught as a curriculum so students learn the fundamentals of peer support, and have a deeper understanding of mental health and suicide, according to Ivy Tech’s announcement about the program. The program teaches students how to be more active in teaching and training their fellow students.

Hope Squad research shows that most young people who are contemplating suicide talk with peers about their concerns rather than with adults, yet as few as 25 percent of peer confidants will tell an adult.

One of the Hope Squad goals in its program is to increase the likelihood of a student identifying a peer who may be at risk of suicide and refer him or her to an appropriate adult, Wright-Berryman said.

The grant will also fund Hope Squad activities to engage students at both college campuses, she said.

The behavior-intervention team members at both college campuses will serve as advisers for Hope Squad and provide support to students who receive the training and begin the peer-to-peer work, she said.

The local organization is partnering with Centerstone, a community stakeholder for Hope Squad, although students who are referred for help will be assured they may go to any mental health provider of their choosing, Wright-Berryman said.

Training will begin in June and organizers hope to roll out the program at the start of this year’s fall academic year during Suicide Prevention Week, which is in September.

More than 33 percent of college students in the United States seeking mental health services seriously considered a suicide attempt, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2016 annual report.

This year’s annual Kids Count data survey from the Indiana Youth Institute reported that nearly 20 percent of Indiana high school students in 2015 seriously considered death by suicide, higher than the national rate of 16 percent.

In 2014, the data survey showed there were 52 suicides in Indiana among children ages 10 to 19 and 76 suicides among young adults ages 20 to 24.

Two years ago, Columbus began a conversation about death by suicide after two Columbus East students died within a week just before the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. A classmate of theirs died by suicide about 14 months before that.

Local suicide prevention officials have sponsored “Let’s Talk About It” events targeted toward high school students each of the past two years to encourage teens to seek help or talk to professionals if they are having suicidal thoughts or know someone who might be at risk of death by suicide.

Resources about suicide

The following resources are available to anyone nationwide:

National Crisis Line: 800-273-TALK (8255)

National Crisis Line (Spanish language): 888-628-9454

Teen Suicide Hotline: 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255

To learn more about suicide prevention, visit or on Facebook at

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 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

Warning signs

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: People with access to guns are more likely to complete suicide.

Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

About Hope Squad

To learn more about Hope Squad, visit

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