Suicide wave prompts rural North Dakota couple to open counseling center – InForum

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Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) .

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

He suddenly realized 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.

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

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

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

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

Jonathan sold his stake in a computer-related business and the couple moved from Kansas City. They purchased 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 to 3,982. The ratio in North Dakota is one to 510; in the United States, it’s one in 373. The numbers show how rural areas are underserved when it comes to behavioral health care, Jonathan said.

Suicides and alcohol abuse hit rural areas at higher rates than urban areas, according to the

Rural Policy Research Institute

. Children and young adults in rural areas also have higher rates of mental health problems than those in urban areas.

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

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

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

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

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

While 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 that environment that nothing would surprise me.”

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

Special at the Forum

But when she returned to Harvey and opened her counseling practice, she said she was “definitely surprised by the level of trauma” and the level of despair.

When her husband came home that night in the fall of 2018 and told her about the high incidence of suicides evident in the group of 10 high school basketball players, she wasn’t surprised.

Many of these students were her clients, but she hadn’t told her husband.

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

Today’s teens – dubbed Generation Z – are the first who, from their earliest years, have been saturated with social media, with so much socializing happening online rather than in person.

In earlier eras, if a student was bullied at school, the house provided refuge. This is not the case with social media. The teens stay up until the early morning hours checking social media to see if they’ve been mentioned, with a watchful eye for any derogatory references.

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

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

Over time, students experiencing emotional difficulties come to feel that they have nowhere to go. Suicide is starting to seem like an option, Nicole Franklin said.

“I hear the same story over and over again,” she said. “It’s eerily similar.”

Often, a teen’s suicide attempt is a cry for help, she says. They often message a friend who is able to contact the parents in time to intervene.

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

Although housed at the Mosaic Wellness Center, in a building the Franklins own and 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 experience turned out to be conclusive.

After less than four years, Nicole Franklin has permission to hire another therapist. She has customers traveling up to two hours and has a waiting list.

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

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

“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.”

Jonathan Nicole Franklin family.jpeg
Jonathan and Nicole Franklin, flanked by horses and the family dog. The Franklins, both from Harvey, ND, have moved back to their hometown, where Nicole is the only mental health therapist in Wells County and area.

Special at the Forum

The Franklins hope to recruit other behavioral health professionals to Harvey, even as they visit to provide counseling. The 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 bold goal.”

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

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

“I have a mission, and I will continue to focus on that,” she said. “I know what I’m doing with my life, and that’s it. It’s our mission together.”

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