Content Warning: This article contains content related to suicide and may be sensitive for some readers.
It’s often difficult to know what to do when a friend or colleague is in mental distress. With everything from direct confrontation to anonymously telling a school counselor, ways of helping people in distress vary. Lawrence teaches the nationally recognized best practice of QPR Suicide Prevention.
QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, and is designed so that anybody—not just mental health professionals—can help, explained Julie Haurykiewicz, Associate Dean for Academic Success, Fox Valley QPR Advisory Board member and QPR master trainer.
The Question part is where one learns “how to ask somebody if they’re in distress, specifically mental health distress,” Haurykiewicz said. Often, that means knowing how to ask the “suicide question,” or asking if that person is feeling suicidal or hopeless.
The second step is learning “how to persuade somebody that there is hope, that life is worth living,” said Haurykiewicz.
And the final step, the Refer, is in place because even when one is trained in QPR, he/she is still not a mental health practitioner.
“You refer the person in distress to a mental health provider or to resources in the community that could support them long-term,” Haurykiewicz explained. “QPR isn’t designed to make any person a mental health professional.”
Haurykiewicz added that the non-professional aspect of QPR is part of what makes it so powerful.
“It’s a way for laypeople to intervene with somebody who is in distress, because the person who is most likely to notice if we’re not doing well physically or mentally is somebody close to us,” she explained. “The idea is to train as many laypeople in QPR as possible because then your relative could reach out, your colleague could reach out, [etc.].”
QPR first came to Lawrence via a grant around 2008 and has since been training students, staff, and teachers on this best practice for preventing suicide.
“At Lawrence, we have a 90-minute presentation, and it’s called specifically ‘QPR Gatekeeper Training,’” Haurykiewicz said. “Their idea of gatekeeper is not the idea of keeping people out. It’s keeping people safe and keeping people within that boundary of safety.”
These presentations share statistics about suicide nationally, regionally and at Lawrence. This includes data from the National Health Assessment Survey, where Lawrence students are higher than the national average for experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness, feeling suicidal and attempting suicide.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the national average includes all sorts of college students, not just traditional-age college students,” Haurykiewicz said. “But, one of the reasons we brought QPR to this campus was that we knew that mental health has over the years been a struggle for Lawrence students.”
The presentation also goes over risk and protection factors, direct and indirect verbal cues, and behavioral clues, which often are reflected in changes in behavior.
“It’s often not so much that people want to die. They want their pain to end,” Haurykiewicz explained. “It’s almost like having tunnel vision or blinders. You can see no other way of having that pain stop.”
Because of that tunnel vision, QPR can be life-saving in helping people see that there are ways to work through their mental anguish.
In addition to training Lawrentians, Haurykiewicz and other staff members have been involved with reaching a training goal of 10,000 individuals in the Fox Valley by 2020. Having already trained somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 individuals, Haurykiewicz said she is excited to reach that goal.
Haurykiewicz added that any club or school organization that is interested in having a QPR training session can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next scheduled training will take place on Thursday, Nov. 2 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Kraemer Room in the Warch Campus Center. The training is open to the entire campus and will enable participants to be able to recognize warning signs of suicide, learn to effectively communicate with someone who might be at risk, as well as learn when to refer someone to professional assistance and learn about more local and national resources for suicide prevention.