Staff Writer

Would you know how to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide? And would you know what to do if they said yes?

A training known as QPR (“question, persuade, refer”) will take place Wednesday and is designed to help people save lives by learning how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and what to do. It’s likened to CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.

The training will give participants the “equipment” to have difficult conversations, said Karyn Westrick, director of counseling services at the University of Findlay. They will also learn about risk factors and signs and symptoms to look for.

Westrick said research has shown positive outcomes, and also makes the person who goes through the training more aware of their own emotional state. QPR is on the SAMHSA National Registry of Evidence-based Practices and Programs.

Someone going through QPR training who has not dealt with suicidal thoughts themselves may bring their own stigma or curiosity to it, she said. Westrick said most of us “want to believe” that the people close to us “would never do this.” The denial protects us, but not the person who is dealing with suicidal thoughts, she said.

But it is fairly common. For every death by suicide, there are an estimated 25 attempts, Westrick said. Nationwide, there are more than 1 million suicide attempts each year.

The 2015 Hancock County Community Health Assessment found that 4 percent of local adults had considered attempting suicide in the past year, and 1 percent had attempted. Thirteen percent of youth in grades 6-12 reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, increasing to 19 percent of females. Seven percent of Hancock County youth had attempted suicide, and 3 percent of youth had made more than one attempt.

Nationwide, deaths by suicide increased on average by about 1 percent per year from 1999 to 2006, and by 2 percent per year from 2006 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We need to see suicidal thoughts as a symptom of an illness,” Westrick said.

And with any illness, it’s important to intervene early.

Westrick said asking questions can be difficult, as “it seems, really, too personal.”

Some people who go through the training say they could ask these questions of strangers, but not people they know, while for others it’s the reverse. She said participants learn why and how to ask these questions, and how to phrase them.

Westrick said it takes practice to say those words, to talk about suicide. And while asking these questions can feel intrusive, it is important not to avoid the conversation.

“Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away,” she said.

Westrick said there are a lot of myths surrounding suicide. One of the biggest is that if you ask someone if they are thinking of suicide you will “plant the idea in their head.” But you’re not asking out of the blue, but because your instincts tell you to do so, and most people are relieved someone is willing to have the conversation.

Another myth, Westrick said, is that if someone talks about suicide they will not do it. In fact, people who die by suicide do talk about it.

Westrick said there is a great deal of ambivalence around suicide.

“Our primal desire is to live,” she said.

She said interviews with the few people who have survived jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge have found that “from the second they took that leap,” they were trying to figure out how to survive.

She said QPR does not focus on suicide itself as the problem — in fact, suicide is what the person sees as a solution to their pain.

“The majority of people aren’t looking to die,” she said. “They’re looking to feel better.”

The goal is to help them “find some sense of hope.”

QPR differs from another training, Mental Health First Aid, in that the latter is an eight-hour training which offers increased knowledge of various mental health issues. QPR is a focus on an in-the-moment action plan, and the training is only 90 minutes.

Westrick, who teaches both, said QPR focuses on giving quick, empowering tools.

The University of Findlay has offered QPR training on campus for several years, focusing on students and staff who might particularly need it, such as students who work in residence halls, or those who are studying the health professions. In collaboration with the Hancock County Community Partnership, the University of Findlay Counseling Services is now offering it to the community as a whole.

When Westrick offers the class at the university, she asks how many people have been personally impacted by either a suicide death or an attempt.

“It is almost 100 percent” each time, she said.

She said 1 of every 62 Americans is a direct survivor of a completed suicide, based on a University of Kentucky study that calculated an average of six blood relatives directly impacted for each death by suicide.

With so many people in the community in such anguish, Westrick feels in a sense “a civic responsibility” to be prepared, just as with CPR.

QPR suicide prevention training will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Winebrenner Theological Seminary on the University of Findlay campus. The training involves some lecture, as well as some roleplay. Along with Westrick, two other UF counseling staff members will lead the training, Jodi Firsdon and Kendra Bermosk.

The training will also be offered from 6-7:30 p.m. May 2 at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. Both sessions are free and open to the public, with no registration required.

Need immediate help? The Hancock County Crisis Line is 1-888-936-7116. Ohio also has a crisis text line — text “4hope” to 741741.

Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

Twitter: @swarthurs