The Importance of Suicide Awareness & Prevention
The end of summer brings cooler weather, the start of school, and a focus on the difficult but important topic of suicide. Memorial Hospital of Converse County is committed to raising suicide awareness and providing support and resources to prevent tragedies, including training employees and community members to recognize signs of potential suicides and to intervene to help those in need.
Training is Essential
The QPR Institute, an organization focused on training people and organizations to increase awareness and prevention of suicide, has developed a method centered around the tenets of Question, Persuade, and Refer. Memorial Hospital of Converse County offers QPR training that doesn’t focus on teaching someone how to council someone who is suicidal, but on recognizing the signs that someone may be considering suicide, how to handle that situation, how to start a dialogue with a vulnerable person to get them to the resources that can help them.
For individuals trained in recognizing signs of suicidal thoughts, talking to someone who is considering suicide is a difficult, but crucial, step in prevention. QPR training helps those who intervene to communicate with those who are ideating or are suicidal about available services and provides tools to provide hope that self-harm isn’t their only option.
“We open those classes to the community so it's not just hospital staff that attends,” said Felicia Smith, QPR Gatekeeper at Memorial Hospital of Converse County. “We've had folks from the Hope Center come over and attend those classes with our staff. We had the folks from the new coffee shop, the Blend Coffee Shop. She put all her staff through that training. We open that to anybody in the community that wants to attend the training.”
In the QPR model, gatekeepers are trained to recognize a crisis and warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide. Smith has taken that a step further, ushering hundreds of people through training that has saved many lives since its inception.
“I think hospital staff-wise, we've probably put almost 200 of our staff through the training since we started offering it about three years ago, so I'm really happy with that,” Smith said. “On the community side of it, I am the chair for Grace to Live, which is the suicide prevention and education.”
Wyomingites At Increased Risk
In 2017, the last year the Center for Disease Control reported suicide-related data, Wyoming had the third-highest incidence of suicides in the United States and nearly double the number of suicides per capita than the national average.
The stigma around mental health fuels Smith as she participates in community events to publicly address the issue to make it more accessible to everyone. Wyomingites tend to have a “Cowboy Up” mentality and many people aren’t comfortable talking about mental health, which makes reaching out for support or asking for help more challenging. The QPR training and Grace to Live programs focus on removing judgement; helping those who are in need of mental health services or other support feel validated and respected as they seek assistance.
Preventing Youth Suicide
Anyone can suffer from depression and feelings of hopelessness may not always be obvious, especially in children. Young people, prone to the emotional swings of adolescence, may act out or become withdrawn. Pop culture has glorified suicide in some regard with television programs normalizing the behavior or showing suicide or self-harm as a solution. Bullying is a national epidemic and doesn’t stop when kids leave school. Kids, who often don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions, are now prone to bully and be bullied every hour of the day through social media channels.
Parents can help their kids become part of the solution when it comes to teen suicide or self-harm by giving them tools to handle difficult situations with peers. Teaching kids what to do when their friends talk about suicide, self-harm, or ideation may save a life and is as important as ensuring their kids aren’t bullying others. Creating and maintaining clear and nonjudgemental channels of communication is the key to ensuring parents can best support their children.
Resources are Available
“If you have questions or need more information I’m always available,” said Smith. “Grace to Live meets once a month. If somebody is interested in becoming part of that organization, reach out to me. My goal would be to see Douglas not have anymore suicides. That would be, to me, the biggest impact that we could make. My ultimate goal is to see suicide go away completely, but it's going to take time."
Smith concluded by stating this important piece of advice: “If you have family members or friends you know how they act. Training is going to tell you how to recognize it, but if you see they're acting differently start asking questions. If you see somebody acting completely out of character that's your number one red flag, but there are little signs that people don’t even think to consider. There are great resources out there and I want people to take advantage of them.”
For more information about suicide prevention in Douglas County, visit the Grace to Live Facebook page or contact Felicia Smith via email by clicking here or phone 307-358-2122. QPR Training Sessions are tentatively scheduled for November. Be sure to watch our Facebook page for further information!