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Our view: Trained to see something, say something

Published on March 12, 2018 9:52AM

Prevention education specialist Amanda Walsborn, with Umatilla County Public Health, recently taught a QPR (question, persuade and refer) suicide prevention session.

Prevention education specialist Amanda Walsborn, with Umatilla County Public Health, recently taught a QPR (question, persuade and refer) suicide prevention session.

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It doesn’t take a medical degree to do CPR, and that’s the point.

If only surgeons and doctors knew how to help the victim of a heart attack, many more people would die of heart attacks. In the 1970s, Tacoma, Washington led the way in training ordinary U.S. citizens to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Countless lives have been saved as a result of widespread knowledge of CPR.

Because nearly one in five Americans are trained to see the signs of cardiac arrest, resuscitate the victim and call in trained professionals to take over care, everyone around them is safer. Same goes for basic first aid and the Heimlich maneuver.

But when it comes to mental health care, we don’t have the same attitude. Too many people feel unprepared to step into someone else’s psychotic breakdown or depression or capable of administering life-saving measures that don’t involve chest compressions. And even if they’re willing, they may worry they won’t have the right words.

But just like in a heart attack, providing aid doesn’t mean solving the problem. It means administering the necessary help until the victim can get complete treatment from a professional.

That’s the idea behind QPR (question, persuade and refer) training, which some county health departments around Oregon have been offering. If more people take on the role of “gatekeepers,” trained to recognize and respond to those suffering a mental health crisis or having suicidal thoughts, we will create a network of support that will decrease the number of suicides.

It’s a three-step process of questioning, persuading and referring.

The first step is to be frank and direct, especially about suicide. One Oregon prevention education specialist recently explained that you can’t plant the idea of suicide in someone’s mind by talking about it. Either they are or they aren’t considering it, and by bringing it to the open you are bringing it out from the dark.

The signs might not be obvious, but if someone exhibits sudden shifts in demeanor or mood, talks about what life would be like if they were gone or shows an interest in getting rid of personal belongings, it’s a good time to broach the subject.

The next step is to persuade — to explain that help is available and that their life is important to you and others. It’s important to speak in positive terms, and not demean the person for considering suicide.

The last step is refer — knowing where to get the person the help they need. See the “who to call” sidebar for some numbers to call for immediate help.

For more information on suicide prevention, call Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare at 503-325-5722. The 24-hour crisis line is 503-325-5724.

Routine QPR training would be an excellent idea in every corner of Oregon.


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