QPR: 3 steps to save a life

Photo: Randy Paulson

Earlier tonight, Active Minds here at Simpson hosted a QPR training session, led by a certified trainer and former mental health professional, Isaac Oaks.

During this session, I learned several things about suicide prevention and the appropriate steps to take when speaking with someone who is considering suicide.

QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer, which is a method by which someone can prevent another person from taking their own life. Oaks said QPR isn’t a form of counseling or treatment for people who feel suicidal, but is action that is “intended to offer hope through positive action.”

Oaks began the training session by explaining the need to talk openly more about suicide: Despite the fact that roughly 45,000 Americans die by suicide each year, it is still a topic people tend to shy away from.

He also debunked common myths people tend to believe about suicide, such as:
• “Once a person decides to complete suicide, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.”
• “Confronting a person about suicide will only make them angry and increase risk of suicide.”
• “Only a professional can help.”
• “Suicidal people keep plans to themselves.”
• “Those who talk about suicide don’t do it.”

Oaks said in all of the above cases, the exact opposite tends to be true:
•People can be talked out of suicide
•Confronting people about suicide opens a line of communication and often lowers their risk of them actually doing it
•Almost anyone can help people feeling suicidal: friends, family, co-workers, event complete strangers
•People feeling suicidal often communicate their intent during the week before attempting it
•People who talk about suicide may attempt, or even, complete some act of self-destruction

The first step of QPR is asking people who may be feeling suicidal, up front, if they are intending to take their life.

Oaks said the question can be asked directly or indirectly (“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” vs. ““Do you ever wish you could go to sleep and never wake up?”) but the most important thing is that it is asked at all. He said if the person is reluctant to be persistent in asking them while also giving them plenty of time to speak.

The next step is persuading the person to not end their life and seek help. The first part of doing this requires you to listen to them, with your full attention and without judgment or interruption, to hear why they are feeling suicidal. Listening to them will make them feel valued and will show them you genuinely care about them. It will also give them a chance to verbalize and self-reflect on their feelings as opposed to keeping them bottled up.

After hearing them speak, ask them if they will agree to seek help for their problems instead of taking their life. Let them know you sympathize with them and agree their problems are valid but that better options than suicide exist. Most importantly, offer them hope to convince them to keep on living.

Finally, refer them to the help they need, usually to a mental health professional. The best referrals involve you personally taking them to a treatment center right away, while the next best options would be to help them make an appointment and then checking up on them afterward, or else getting them to agree to seek help and giving them the information they need to do so.

Oaks explained there are several clues, both direct and indirect, that can act as red flags of possible suicidal intent.

Direct clues are when people blatantly state that they want to end their lives, while indirect clues are when they hint at it with statements like: ““I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on” or “I won’t be around much longer.”

Certain behaviors and situations can also serve as clues.

For example, when people who already show signs of depression, moodiness and hopelessness do additional things like acquiring a gun or a stockpile of pills; putting their personal affairs in order; giving away prized possessions; suddenly developing an interest or disinterest in religion, it could be a good indicator that they are thinking of taking their life.

Major life-changing situations can also put people at risk of suicidal intent: things like the loss of a job, loss of a loved one, ending a relationship with someone important, diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness or the anticipated loss of financial security.

At the end of the training session, Oaks said by applying QPR, you “plant the seeds of hope” in a person that can wind up saving their life.

He also provided us all with a wallet-sized card containing the following information for suicide prevention resources anyone can use in a crisis:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

Vets4Warriors 1-855-838-8255



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