The Student Counseling Center organized an Secrets of Success workshop entitled “Suicide Prevention and Awareness” on Sept. 16. The event drew approximately 30 students and lasted 40 minutes. Director of the Health and Counseling Center Kelly Miller introduced the speaker, Mike Riekhof. Riekhof works at Phizer Pharmaceuticals and previously worked at Eli Lilly, where he helped to launch the antidepressant Prozac.
“Nothing is off limits,” Riekhof said. “If you don’t feel like asking in front of your classmates, you can ask me afterwards.”
Riekhof then explained several facts about suicide, and dispelled some myths. According to the Indiana Youth Institutes, suicide has been the second leading cause of death for Hoosiers between the ages of 15 and 24 since 2009. The IYI also says that every 12.95 minutes a person commits suicide, an estimated one million people annually. That being said, Riekhof began the second part of his presentation.
“I wish I wasn’t here,” Riekhof said. “I wish I didn’t have to talk about this…. This is a sad story, but it’s a good story.”
He went on to explain that his knowledge about suicide prevention and awareness did not come from a psychology class in college. He learned from firsthand experience. His second of four children was named Peyton. Peyton played softball in high school, graduated with a 3.9 grade point average from Hamilton Southeastern and received a scholarship to the University of Kansas. Riekhof described his daughter as very kind and sensitive to others. Suffering from depression merely made her an advocate for her peers.
“The number of kids that she helped was astounding,” Riekhof said. “‘Don’t stop taking your antidepressants. Go to your counseling,’ she would say. She was astounding. The sad thing is she couldn’t help herself.”
Riekhof said that Peyton stopped sleeping. She quit softball. She started drinking. She had to finish school online because she could not get up and go and did not want to be there. She had many counselors who all said the same thing despite the things she was going through, she would be all right. She was constantly masking her own illness, Riekhof said.
In the summer of 2013, Peyton went missing. Her bank account and security cameras at a nearby gas station showed Peyton buying a pack of cigarettes and a full tank of gas. Peyton didn’t smoke. She did not just drive away, as her family and friends had hoped. Three days after she went missing, Peyton was found. Later Riekhof’s pastor told him that Peyton’s was a terminal illness.
The Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope was created last November. It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of raising awareness of mental health and the goal of reducing the risk of suicide. All donations go toward awareness, and one of its upcoming prevention programs is paying counselors to go into Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern high schools to start a youth support group for those in need.
“Awareness means being able to see, hear and feel signs and symptoms,” Riekhof said. “There are three things anyone can do: 1. Simply care and show it. Be a good friend and listen. Don’t judge. 2. Take action, even if it means going against what they’ve told you. 3. Never give up on that person. Transient depression comes and goes, but clinical depression… never really goes away.”
Miller contacted Riekhof for this workshop because his story is such a compassionate and compelling one. September also is Suicide Awareness Month. The “Suicide Prevention and Awareness” workshop was a part of the Student Counseling Center’s Outreach Program. This program encompasses many events, from things as small as giving out hot chocolate on the national Day of Kindness, to events such as SOS workshops. The next SOS workshop is “Conquering the Blank Page” on Sept. 30 from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. in Schwitzer Student Center Room 010.
University of Indianapolis students have 16 counseling sessions (eight per semester) available to them free of charge. Miller said the most common issues students bring to the center are anxiety and depression, in that order. She said this is true of university counseling across the nation. However, there are a variety of issues students can take to the center.
“We see serious [issues], but we also see students with stress management or roommate issues…. There’s so much we offer,” Miller said.
If a student does not feel comfortable going to the Student Counseling Center, Resident Assistants and Resident Directors also are happy to talk. All RAs and RDs have been certified through SafeTalk, an alertness training that teaches how to appropriately speak with individuals. According to Miller, there is an unnecessary stigma about mental health that extends to suicide.
“There is fear about it…. There is also the positive indicator of less stigma,” Miller said.
Campuses across the nation have more access to mental health service, according to Miller. As these students get the help they need, there is less concern about stigma, Miller said, because education and outreach along with increased numbers of individuals needing mental health assistance appear to be having the greatest impact on decreasing the stigma.