Next month, from Sept. 5 to 11, the U.S. will observe National Suicide Prevention Week. And on Sept. 10, nations across the globe will join in marking annual World Suicide Prevention Day.
There is probably no less of an appropriate time to be talking about preventing suicide. And really, we can and should talk about it every day, any chance we get. Annual observances are great for awareness building, but what if we all could learn a skill as simple as asking a question that will go the next step and likely save the life of someone contemplating suicide?
We are flooded with statistics, facts and demographics around suicide deaths and let’s be honest, it’s overwhelming. Just this past April, the Center for Disease Control issued a report that made real our worst fears – the suicide rate in the United States is increasing – since 1999, the rate of suicide deaths across the board has grown by 24 percent through 2014.
The World Health Organization says that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world. In the U.S. alone, the economic burden is big money—conventional data says that the suicide price tag to society is roughly $58 billion a year in economic and emotional costs. A more recent report, however, puts that figure at $93 billion, adjusting for the well-documented under-reporting of suicide acts.
But it’s not just about the money.
While statistics inform us, challenge us, spur us to action, it’s easy to forget that very often it takes a single human connection to interrupt the impulsivity of someone thinking about suicide. Or a simple act of giving someone a reason to let go the grip of pain and despair. Or the compassionate gesture of creating hope out of hopelessness. I think a lot about a tagline that one of my colleagues, Debbie Helms of Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, uses: Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds the resources for coping with the pain.
Reaching out when someone is suicidal does not come naturally to people. A suicide crisis for someone we love or know creates fear, and fear breeds denial. And denial is paralyzing. This is a learned behavior ─ we can un-learn it and replace it with an intervention that can derail the trajectory of someone wanting to end their life.
It’s called QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer – and like CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, any one of us may be the best possible person to act in a moment of crisis for someone thinking about suicide. In this approach, we learn to Question the person about suicide; Persuade the person to get help; and Refer the person to appropriate resources.
What is QPR Gatekeeper Training?
The most important thing to know is that anyone can learn QPR intervention. Since it was established in 1996, more than 2,500 organizations and communities have been trained in QPR. More than 8,500 certified QPR instructors have trained more than 1 million people in all 50 states. QPR is an evidence-based practice included in the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.
QPR teaches laypersons and professionals to recognize and respond positively to someone exhibiting suicide warning signs and behaviors. And most importantly, it debunks the myth that asking a person if they are considering taking their own life will push them to do it. Like CPR, QPR is an intervention to buy time to get the person to the appropriate treatment. It’s as straightforward as this: ask a question, save a life. It is intended to offer hope through positive action.
Later this year, Bournewood will be offering QPR training to the community, to family members of patients and to anyone interested in learning this skill so that they can help someone who may be considering suicide. Check back on our website at www.bournewood.com for updates on dates, times and location.
As a trained instructor, these words always float to the surface of my mind when I talk to people about QPR: Just as you would not stand by if a loved one or a friend were drowning or having a heart attack, neither would you stand by and do nothing for someone prepared to end their life by suicide. I know I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.
And now, each one of us can have the tools to care, to act and to save a life.
Anna is one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention (MCSP) currently serving on the MCSP Executive Committee and is a certified QPR Instructor.