U students meet with counselors to cope with death

Than Tibbetts

University counselors met with Middlebrook Hall residents returning to campus from Thanksgiving break Sunday to help residents cope with the death of a student.

On Wednesday morning, a first-year University student and Middlebrook Hall resident fell to his death in an apparent suicide. University Community Response Team members met with the students immediately after the incident and again Sunday night.

Reached by phone Sunday, Greg Hestness, University police chief and assistant vice president for the Department of Public Saftey, said the Hennepin County medical examiner hadn’t confirmed a cause of death as of Friday, but it appears to be a suicide.

Many students were at a loss for words Sunday night as they returned to Middlebrook Hall.

As first-year student Benjamin Schuster pulled his belongings out of the trunk of the family car, his mother, Cynthia Sherman, said their family has dealt with several suicides recently.

“I wonder, you know, is it the time of year, the stresses that college kids face?” she said. “It’s a widespread issue.”

Schuster’s brother at the University of California, Los Angeles and a family friend at Northwestern University have dealt with suicides, Sherman said.

First-year student and Middlebrook Hall resident Lindsey Schempf said that she left the residence hall approximately 20 minutes before the incident happened last week.

“I saw it on the news,” she said. “It’s really tragic. It’s horrible.”

Schempf said the situation still seems somewhat surreal.

“It’s where you live. You don’t expect that,” she said.

Several students said they didn’t want to discuss the incident.

Some students said they received an e-mail with a phone number for counseling help and information about floor meetings to discuss the death.

University President Bob Bruininks said in a statement Wednesday that the University community grieves for the family during this difficult time.

“We will do whatever we can to help them cope with this terrible loss,” he said.

University counselors are encouraging students to look out for warning signs of depression.

Licensed clinical social worker Candice Price, a University response team member, said signs include sudden shifts in personality and comments such as “life isn’t worth living.”

“Part of the problem is sometimes you just don’t know, because people might keep suicidal thoughts and feelings to themselves,” she said. “So when a person talks about wanting to hurt themselves, you need to take it seriously.”

The Jed Foundation, an organization that promotes college students’ mental health, said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Approximately 1,100 students commit suicide annually on U.S. college campuses, the foundation states.

Anyone who thinks he or she knows someone contemplating suicide should refer that person to University counseling services or Boynton Health Service, Price said. If it is an after-hours situation, students are advised to go to an emergency room.

“It’s very helpful for a person to talk to a professional, because they know the right questions to ask,” she said.

Bob Seybold, head of the University response team, said future tragedy can be avoided if students find effective ways to deal with college pressures.

“It’s very important for each person to learn effective techniques to manage their stress level and to seek help when necessary,” he said.