Monday Medical: Ask a question, save a life

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Think about saving a life. Maybe you envision kneeling over a person, using the vigorous chest compressions of CPR. Or perhaps you picture an emergency medical team urgently treating a patient.

I’ll bet you didn’t imagine that simply asking a question could be a life-saving act. Yet that is exactly the basis of a suicide intervention method called QPR.

QPR stands for question, persuade and refer. These life-saving skills involve asking a person about suicide, persuading him or her to get help and referring the person to the appropriate resource.

Ronna Autrey, executive director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide, and Leslie Christensen, REPS board vice president, will share these skills July 16 in a free Taking Care of Me program at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“QPR is for anyone who wants to know the warning signs of suicide and what to do to help someone who is at risk,” Autrey said. “We liken QPR to CPR because it can be just as effective in saving a life, and it is easy to learn.”

Autrey said many people are afraid to ask the question, “Are you thinking of suicide?” because if someone says “yes,” they don’t know what to do next. QPR provides this knowledge.

Routt County averages five completed suicides each year, Autrey said. In 2012, volunteers from Suicide Prevention Advocates sat with and talked to 36 people who had attempted or talked about suicide.

“The alarming thing is that 13 of these individuals were between the ages of 14 to 20,” Autrey said.

Autrey said SPA volunteers are not called for every suicide attempt, and that is one reason why REPS is casting a wider net to educate more people about QPR.

“We have successfully trained teachers, clergy and students,” Autrey said. “They feel competent and confident to recognize more signs of suicide, be blunt, ask the question and make the appropriate follow-up.”

REPS taught QPR to 50 teachers at Steamboat Springs High School in February, then shared the program with 568 students in March. Hayden, Soroco and Heritage Christian schools are scheduled to receive training in the fall.

The school programs followed a survey that showed local high school students recognize when classmates are troubled and potentially suicidal, but don’t know what to do about it.

“School counselors who have been dealing with suicide and the way that it affects young people really appreciate that we have started this program,” Autrey said.

REPS has developed two presentations, one for adults and the other for teens and people who work with kids and teens.

Mike Diemer, of Johnny B. Good’s Diner, arranged for Autrey to present her program to some of the staff at his restaurant, which is a popular hangout for young people.

“We’re part of the It Takes Courage program, helping to do what we can to prevent bullying,” Diemer said. “We are a safe haven for kids to come in and talk to us if they’re having difficulties.

“Because bullying can cause suicidal thoughts, taking Ronna’s class helped us to identify warning signs and what to say.”

“We welcome the opportunity to speak to businesses or organizations,” Autrey said. “This is a concise, simple, powerful program. People will walk away with knowledge that can help others. The more people we can reach, the safer our community will be.”

Christine McKelvie is a writer/editor for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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