Suicide rash prompts rural North Dakota couple to open counseling center

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HARVEY, ND – Jonathan Franklin was shaken by a grim realization as he chatted with a group of 10 high school students after playing a game of basketball in the city’s Armory gymnasium.

It suddenly occurred to him as he scanned the group that the parents of four of the 10, all former classmates or acquaintances from his school years, had died by suicide.

He later learned that a parent of one-fifth of the 10 students had also died by suicide, meaning half of the group had been affected by the suicide tragedy.

“It was kind of the defining moment,” Franklin said. He decided, “We have to do something in this city. It was just crazy.

This urge to do something culminated in the Mosaic Wellness Center, where counseling services are located on Main Street in Harvey. Nicole Franklin, Jonathan’s wife, is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist at the center and also provides counseling at the school.

The Franklin’s, who grew up in Harvey, had spent summers at home for 18 years so their children could experience the joys of country life. In 2018, they returned with their families for good.

Jonathan sold his stake in an IT-related company, and the couple moved from Kansas City. They bought a vacant building that had fallen into disrepair to house the Mosaic Wellness Center.

Nicole is the only therapist in Wells County, a ratio of one in 3,982. The ratio across North Dakota is one in 510; in the United States, it’s one in 373. The numbers show just how underserved rural areas are when it comes to behavioral health care, Jonathan said.

Suicides and alcohol abuse strike rural areas at higher rates than urban areas, according to the. Children and young adults in rural areas also have higher rates of mental health problems than those in urban areas.

The lack of behavioral health care is one of the reasons for the high suicide rates in rural areas, Nicole said. Isolation also plays a role. The same goes for the strong sense of independence and attitude of perseverance.

“You just got through,” she said, summing up the state of mind. “It’s kind of a ‘help yourself’ culture. “


Jonathan and Nicole Franklin established Mosaic Wellness Center, a <a class=counseling center, in Harvey, North Dakota, in response to the high level of suicides in the farming community of Wells County, east-central North Dakota. Contributed” width=”1140″ height=”-1″/>

Jonathan and Nicole Franklin established Mosaic Wellness Center, a counseling center, in Harvey, North Dakota, in response to the high level of suicides in the farming community of Wells County, east-central North Dakota. Contributed

Outwardly, nothing had changed much in Harvey, a farming town of 1,700 people in Wells County, east-central North Dakota, in the 20-plus years since the Franklin’s graduated from ‘high school and left town.

But something had changed, a dark undercurrent that hadn’t existed before. When the Franklin’s were growing up, the first suicide of anyone at school they knew about happened in 1994.

Since August 2020, according to Nicole’s tally, 21 teenagers have attempted suicide, a number that has likely increased due to stress from the coronavirus pandemic and also reflects thoughts of suicide have become much more prevalent.

In Kansas City, she worked at an alternative high school. “I saw a lot of trauma there and addiction,” she said. “I thought after being in this environment that nothing would surprise me. “

But when she returned to see Harvey and opened her consultancy firm, she said she “was definitely surprised at the level of trauma” and the level of hopelessness.

When her husband came home that evening in the fall of 2018 and told her about the high incidence of suicide among the group of 10 high school basketball players, she was not surprised.

Many of these students were her clients, but she had not told her husband about them.

There is something particularly stressful and isolating about the online culture that is part of today’s growth, said Nicole Franklin.

Today’s teens, dubbed Generation Z, are the first to be saturated with social media from a young age, with so much socialization online rather than in person.

In the old days, if a student was bullied at school, the house provided a safe haven. This is not the case with social networks. The teens stay awake until the early hours of the morning checking social media to see if they’ve been mentioned, with a watchful eye for any derogatory reference.

“These kids, they never unplug,” said Nicole Franklin. “They never have a break.”

The pressure begins to rise. They fall behind in their schoolwork. They have busy schedules, with school, work, activities.

Over time, students who experience emotional difficulties come to feel that they have nowhere to go. Suicide is starting to appear as an option, said Nicole Franklin.

“I always hear the same story,” she said. “It’s strangely similar.”

Often the teenage suicide attempt is a cry for help, she said. They often send a message to a friend who is able to contact the parents in time to intervene.

“For many of them, it was a wake-up call,” she said.

Although she is housed in the Mosaic Wellness Center, in a building owned by Franklin and has been renovated, Nicole Franklin works for Assessment and Therapy Associates based in Grand Forks. Harvey’s office is the firm’s first branch.

“It’s kind of an experience for them to branch out into a rural area,” she said. The experiment turned out to be successful.

After less than four years, Nicole Franklin is authorized to hire another therapist. She has clients who travel up to two hours and has a waiting list.

“We need more providers,” Jonathan Franklin said in recent testimony to the North Dakota Legislature’s Acute Psychiatric Treatment Committee. “Being the only one is really difficult. “

The area must also have access to a psychiatric treatment bed, he said. When the children attempt to kill themselves, they are taken to a hospital emergency room, which he says is not equipped to handle the case. It can take days for a bed to open, he said.

“It’s not a pleasant experience,” said Jonathan Franklin, who assists his wife at the Mosaic Wellness Center. “Not having access to this stuff is traumatic. “

The Franklin’s are hoping to recruit other behavioral health professionals in Harvey, even if they visit to provide advice. The first floor of the Mosaic Wellness Center has an apartment.

“Our goal would be to have 20 vendors in Harvey,” Jonathan told lawmakers. “It’s a pretty daring goal.

But, he added, there are rural communities that strive to provide local services.

Nicole Franklin, who finds clients more willing than before to ask for help, finds her job fulfilling.

“I have a mission, and I’m just going to keep focusing on it,” she said. “I know what I’m doing with my life, and that’s it. It’s our mission together.”


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