Sharmila Raghunandan ’10 found rising suicide rates correlated with rising unemployment rates in one Minnesota county.
Her work was cited earlier this winter in a Star Tribune story on the topic.
“When you actually have a knife in your hand and you’re standing in front of a body, it’s really scary.” So began the second day of work for senior Sharmila Raghunandan (Bangalore, India), who served an internship last summer with the Dakota County Medical Examiners Office. She calls it “one of the most challenging and greatest experiences I’ve had.”
Raghunandan, an anthropology major with a global and community health concentration, hopes to become a doctor. So she tried not to show how frightened she was when medical examiner Lindsey Thomas asked her to help with an autopsy. “But then Lindsey told us, ‘It’s normal to be terrified…this is the first time you’ve seen a dead body.’”
A class on forensic anthropology class at Hamline University, taken through the ACTC program, inspired Raghunandan to seek the internship.
Along with assisting at autopsies, interns were taught to do case reports. When her first case report was of a suicide, Raghunandan decided to explore whether the suicide rate had gone up in recent years along with the unemployment rate.
“There was a definite correlation between rising unemployment rates and rising rates of suicide in Dakota County,” she says. Further research showed that correlation didn’t hold up in countries such as Sweden, which have better welfare safety nets than does our own. Her work was cited earlier this winter in a Star Tribune story on the topic.
Raghunandan spent her winter break working with another kind of safety net—a low-cost community-based health insurance program for impoverished Indian people. “I’d love to go back and work on it more,” she says, adding that she hopes to return to India someday to do medical relief work with children.