A moment of crisis: How does DePauw handle mental health emergencies?


During Cate Hensley's second semester at DePauw, an ambulance pulled up to the front of Humbert Hall, where a paramedic strapped her onto a gurney and asked her why she wanted to kill herself.

Today, Hensley is a junior at DePauw, and believes that the university needs to take mental health more seriously, in and out of the counseling center.

“There’s clearly an issue of mental health not being prioritized or talked about,” she said.

Outside of DePauw Wellness and the counseling center, there are other resources for students seeking aid: specifically, Resident Assistants (RAs) and first year mentors, the student disabilities office and, in extreme circumstances, public safety, are all open resources for students in need.  

RAs on campus talk about mental health extensively, given that they are supposed to be the first resource for students who need help.

“We talk a lot about how important it is to have intentional conversations with students,” said Director of Campus Living and DePauw graduate Wendy Wippich. Wippich is one of the coordinators of the RA program.

RAs undergo intensive training in the weeks leading up to the fall semester, where they learn how to help a student in crisis in a four-hour session dedicated to identifying signs of concern and keeping students safe. The training is led by counselors from the wellness center. RAs then participate in role-play scenarios to help put lessons into practice.

“Obviously, we’re not equipped to handle any situation,” said junior Brock Turner, the RA for the third floor of Bishop Roberts Hall. “It gives us a crash course to make sure students are safe.”

There is pressure placed on RAs to be watchful of their residents’ health, but it is by no means their full responsibility.

“I don’t want to suggest that they are mental health professionals, but they do have a lot of training,” said Dean of Student Life, Christopher Wells.  

“It’s stressed that the training we provide and the support they [the RAs] provide is not the end-all-be-all,” Wippich added.

Outside of the resident halls, students can resort to disability services and its director, Pamela Roberts. Roberts said the increase in mental health aid is a “national trend across the country,” and not specific to DePauw.

When a student makes it to disability services, Roberts will sit and talk with the student to discuss the best options. If there is a diagnosis, Roberts can then organize formal accommodations, such as extended time on homework and assignments, or taking exams in a room alone instead of with the class.  Roberts said she has seen students struggling with post-traumatic stress and ADHD, among other things, but the most typical diagnoses are for anxiety and depression.

“They are thieves of our motivation, thieves of our energy and they steal our focus,” said Roberts of mental illness.

“Pam was always available and always able to go out of her way to help me,” said Hensley about Roberts. “[She] has always been an advocate.”

Hensley is now thriving at DePauw. She is a communication studies and English writing double major and works in the costume shop for the theater department. In addition to volunteering at the Women’s Center and being an active member of her Greek chapter, she is also a member of Alpha Psi Omega theater honor society and Vice President of Programming for Panhellenic. Hensley is even a member of Active Minds, a student organization founded this semester that works to make mental health conversations easier to have on campus.

But not everyone can be helped, and there are students who have to leave DePauw in order to treat their mental health.

“The student may be too ill to be able to be successful,” Roberts said. “It may be that you need to take some time off.”

DePauw does not, however, keep track of how many students take time off or leave the university for mental health reasons. An exit interview is conducted when a student withdraws, but mental health is under the category of physical health, and so there is no indication of how many students leave for mental health-related reasons.

For students who need immediate attention, public safety becomes involved. Director of Public Safety Angela Nally said DePauw’s public safety is a 24-hour resource for students, and can connect students to a counselor on call or dispatch a public safety officer to their location in times of crisis.

“You don’t have to wait until Monday,” Nally said.

Public safety protocol in these situations is to make an initial assessment of the situation and determine if counseling services can be utilized. Then, public safety creates a plan between the counseling center and the student.

“Many times the counseling center is already meeting with the student,” Nally said.

In Hensley’s case, she called public safety herself and an on-call student life administrator came and sat with her until the paramedics arrived. Nally said that students are taken to Terre Haute, the closest psych evaluation center to Greencastle, around two to three times a semester.

Even though Hensley’s interaction went relatively smoothly, she said that there have been incidents with her friends where the needs to the person in crisis where not fully meet.

Hensley said she once called public safety to help a friend in need who was showing self-destructive tendencies and abuse of substances. After an evaluation, Hensley was still concerned for her friend’s safety and requested that the student receive follow up emails from student life and assistance to the counseling center the next day by a student life administrator.

“They never received a follow up,” Hensley said.

“Sometimes we can be agitators,” said Nally of public safety’s involvement. She said that sometimes, uncooperative students can be detained by public safety to help move them to a care facility or prevent them from committing harm to themselves or others.

Nally’s biggest fear is for a student to commit suicide on campus. In her 18 years of work at DePauw, there has only been one suicide.

“I do everything that I can to make sure that never happens again,” she said. “One life lost is way too many.”


-This article is the third part in a series.