Since fall, the national media has trained a spotlight on youth suicides resulting from anti-gay bullying. However, people of all ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicity and ability levels can be at risk for suicide.
According to figures released in 2007 by the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in men and the fifteenth in women, with men being far more likely to make a fatal attempt. In April, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that suicide rates had jumped nearly 13 percent between 2008 and 2009.
While, historically, Utah’s suicide rate has been higher than the national average, a number of individuals and organizations in Ogden have formed a suicide prevention task force called NUHOPE, Northern Utah Hold On Persuade Empower. The Ogden OUTreach Resource Center has been part of this task force, which is particularly concerned with youth suicide, since the NUHOPE’s founding in 2007.
“We [OUTreach] started doing classes in November,” said Gary Horenkamp, director of the center, which serves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning youth and adults in Ogden and nearby cities.
The 90-minute classes are taught by local trainers through the QPR Institute, a Spokane, Wash.-based suicide prevention organization that follows three steps when it comes to speaking with people who may be considering taking their lives: question, persuade and refer.
“It’s like CPR but for people thinking about suicide,” said Horenkamp.
In fact, QPR’s website also compares its method to CPR, a form of first aid that can be used to restart an individual’s heart and breathing. The first thing that the institute’s Gatekeepers (or trainers) teach is how to recognize warning signs of suicidal ideation. While these can differ from person to person, some common warning signs are when an individual talks about committing suicide, gives away important possessions or obtains, or has access to, lethal or potentially lethal things such as firearms or pills. Another common warning sign is when a person becomes abruptly calm and cheerful after a prolonged period of depression; often, this indicates that he or she has decided to make an attempt. Having a detailed plan for an attempt is also a cause for concern.
After identifying these or other warning signs, Horenkamp said that QPR’s training encourages Gatekeepers to ask direct questions such as, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s important, he said, to phrase the question positively.
“What doesn’t work, and researchers have put this together, is to ask in the negative: ‘You’re not thinking about committing suicide?’ You’ll always get a no. It’s too easy to lie. Or, ‘You’re not thinking about doing something stupid?’ You may be the person’s last friend in their mind, and now you’re calling them stupid. You’re not going to get a yes because who wants to be called stupid?”
While it is a common worry that discussing suicide frankly can convince people to make an attempt, suicide prevention experts say this is not the case. This is what Dave Reynolds, Senior Public Policy and Research manager for The Trevor Project, told Utahns when he visited the state in October to teach a similar workshop. The project works to stop lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth suicides.
“You’re never going to put the idea [of suicide] in someone’s head if you talk about it in a non-judgmental way,” he said at the time. “Often we’re too scared of what we’re going to hear about if we talk about suicide, and that’s a natural fear as human beings.”
After getting an affirmative response from a suicidal person, the QPR Institute urges individuals to persuade the individual not to take any action toward making an attempt. He or she is then advised to refer them to a professional, including a therapist, crisis line, or even hospital emergency room.
The important thing to remember, said Horenkamp, is that everyone can help prevent suicide. In fact, he said that QPR’s focus on people who are not medical professionals was the reason he and other Ogdenites asked for their trainers to come.
“This is geared to everyone whether you’re a brother, sister, child or co-worker,” he said.
And so far, these and other laypersons are showing up to the trainings, including members of local churches and students from Weber State University, where Horenkamp said a major suicide prevention effort is underway.
“A lot of impetus has come from the athletic department,” he said, noting that professional sports teams, such as the NBL, have recently acknowledged suicide and mental illness as health concerns by granting team members time off for mental health-related treatments. This time is referred to as a mental DL, during which a player who is taking time off for treatment is put on the disabled list, or the list that shows which players are out of the game for medical reasons. The NBL policy received media attention in June when Cincinnati Reds player Joey Votto went public about his struggles with severe depression and anxiety.
To date, Horenkamp said that Ogden area has 14 QPR instructors who are planning on doing outreach training in a number of Northern Utah locations, including Hill Airforce Base on Jan. 25.
When asked if he knew of anyone who had used the training to help save a life, Horenkamp said that he met one such person at the Ogden Unitarian Universalist Church earlier this month.
“I had a lady come to me Sunday in church who said, ‘I used this last night.’ And it was on her son,” Horenkamp recalled. “I said, ‘Well I hate to ask the question, but how did it work?’ And she said, ‘It’s fine, he’s in treatment now.’ Her son was 600 miles away.”
The next QPA training will take place Dec. 30 from 6:30–8 p.m. at OUTreach, located in the Unitarian Church at 705 23rd St. in Ogden. In addition, a suicide survivors group for both individuals who have attempted suicide and those who have lost loved ones to suicide meets on the first Thursday of each month from 6–8 p.m. at the Ogden Police Department, 2186 Lincoln Ave. For more information contact Gary Horenkamp at [email protected] or 801-686-4528.
For information about the QPR Institute, visit qprinstitute.com.