After 3 suicides in 2 years, Franklin schools looks for answers

After three students in Franklin schools committed suicide in less than two years, a newly formed committee wants to stop it from happening again.

Three students committed suicide in the last 18 months, said Deb Brown-Nally, Franklin’s executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Brown-Nally is a member of a new mental health committee, which is working to find solutions for students with a growing need for mental health services.

In mid-December, students at the middle and high schools were asked to take an 11-question survey, which asked them what mental health issues they and their peers are affected by, the causes of those issues and where they can find support, or wish they could find support, in times of need. 

“It’s important for the community to know we have kids right here feeling hopeless and defeated to the point of them talking about and committing suicide," Brown-Nally said.

For the survey, the group looked to similar questionnaires given to students in Hamilton Southeastern and Noblesville schools, Brown-Nally said. The survey is geared toward middle and high school students because, although elementary school students may have similar issues, they might not be able to identify them yet.

The number of students who have said they are harming themselves, or are tempted to, is alarming, she said.

“We’re seeing an increase in anxiety (and) depression, and that would probably be at the secondary level,” Brown-Nally said. “There’s an increase in the number of self-harm and suicidal ideation reports made to the Department of Child Services.”

Brown-Nally expects survey results to mirror this increase, and with that information, she hopes the district will provide students with additional social workers and mental health specialists, as well as more external resources for those who require the most help, she said. 

But a lot of those external resources only help families that qualify for Medicaid, a gap school officials are continuously trying to fill, Brown-Nally said.

A recent suicide prompted school officials to form the mental health committee, she said.

The committee, which consists of Brown-Nally, Jeff Sewell, director of safety and operations, three Franklin counselors, an administrator and an Adult and Child social worker, was formed at the start of the school year.

James Storms, a counselor at Custer Baker Intermediate School, also serves on the committee. Previously, he was a counselor at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis where he saw patients with a variety of mental illnesses.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of individuals struggling with several mental health diagnoses: bipolar, schizophrenia, mood and personal disorders and addiction,” Storms said. “We’d like to have something implemented in Franklin schools that better targets the demographic of students and families struggling with mental health problems.”

When families struggle with addiction and mental health issues, those conundrums also negatively affect students, something that is measured by the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) quiz, Storms said. The higher a student scores on the quiz, the more likely they are to develop mental health issues of their own. While it’s still possible for mental health issues to affect children not affected by a rough home life, the quiz demonstrates the complexity of factors leading to a mental health crisis.

“We do need additional help with mental health,” Storms said.

“We want to create socially and academically healthy students and help them deal with the more challenging things in life and take more preventative steps to support that.”