QPR Training and Mental Health at UW
QPR is “an emergency mental health intervention that teaches people to recognize and respond positively to someone exhibiting suicide warning signs and behaviors.” This is built on the idea that people with suicidal ideations often reveal their thoughts in bits and pieces, like a puzzle—and our role is to try to find more pieces of the puzzle to prevent people from going down that path.
I attended a QPR training session at the university and learned a lot! Although I hope I’ll never have to use my training in real life, the statistics are discouraging.
- 4000 deaths are due to suicide in Canada each year—this is a conservative estimate. Why? A person who has lost the will to live may become more reckless with their daily activities—thus, deaths arising from this are deemed accidents, not suicides, even though the mentality behind them are the same.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10–24 (the first is motor vehicle accidents)
- 24% of deaths among 15–24-year-olds are suicides
- 16% of deaths among 16–44-year-olds are suicides
- Canada ranks 26th in the number of deaths by suicide globally (out of the 82 countries who report suicide stats)
- 8.7% of students every year seriously consider suicide at least once, 0.9% seriously consider suicide numerous times, and 1.4% attempt suicide at least once
- Suicide rate in post-secondary population is half the rate of the general population
- The University of Waterloo’s stats are average compared to other Canadian post-secondaries.
These last two facts were surprising. I think Waterloo has a culture of casually reinforcing themes of depression and suicide in our conversations with each other, compounded by our several high-profile campus suicides in the past few years, which perhaps leads to a distorted view of the actual extent of our mental health problem. But at least students here are aware, and willing to do something about it—the training room was packed full of students on a Friday afternoon.
Our instructor referred to suicide, and other drastic actions such as self-harm, as “temporary solutions to a permanent problem.” And therefore, while QPR is not any sort of counselling or treatment, it does teach us ways to offer hope to those at risk, so that they may turn to alternative solutions before resorting to the most irreversible measure. Often suicidal people have no hope left, and our role is to instill some hope into them again.
It’s a common myth that confronting a person about suicide will only push them closer to the edge, but actually, asking someone directly about suicide lowers anxiety, opens communication, and lowers the risk of acting impulsively. So if you notice someone you know exhibiting troubling behaviour, it’s important to ask them what’s going on.
Clues and Warning Signs
Although many suicides take us by surprise, most suicidal people “hint” about their suicide sometime during the week before their attempt.
- Verbal cues can be a huge hint, but sometimes they can be more subtle: “If xxx doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.” “My family would be better off without me.” “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.” Even if it doesn’t seem like a serious intent, it doesn’t hurt to ask people what exactly they mean when they make these comments.
- Past suicide attempts are a big warning sign as well
- Acquiring a gun or talking about getting gun
- Stockpiling pills—you may notice they haven’t been taking their meds and have instead been piling them up
- They’re not their usual self—they’re more lonely, moody, hopeless—or they experience uncharacteristic anger, aggression, and irritability
- Putting personal affairs in order or giving away prized possessions, if combined with other warning behaviors
- People sometimes may feel a need to “find God”—to find a higher purpose—before they end their life. On the flip side, someone who is regularly religious could also suddenly step away from their faith and community when they’ve decided to take their life
- Any drastic life change (losing a job or position, ending a relationship, loss of someone close to them, being diagnosed with a serious illness, etc.)
Key takeaways from QPR:
- Don’t be afraid to ASK THE QUESTION. If in doubt, ask. Don’t wait. Be persistent if the person is reluctant to give details. Make sure it’s a private setting and encourage the person to talk freely. Confronting someone about suicide can be awkward, but it’s important that you do. You can try an indirect approach, like “Have you ever wished you could go to sleep and never wake up?” If you really can’t bring yourself to ask the question, get someone else to speak to them. But how you ask is less important than asking. The only way you should avoid phrasing it is, “You’re not feeling suicidal, *are you?*“ This implies that suicide is something that could never even be considered, and confers a judgmental tone to your question.
- Use your empathy and willingness to listen to PERSUADE someone to rethink their actions and get help. “Can you promise me to not kill yourself until I find you some help?”
- REFER the person to Counselling Services or Health Services. The best thing to do is physically walking the person to the front desk, so you can ensure they stay safe during their crisis.
- Say “I want you to live,” “I’m on your side,” and use “we” and “us” so the person doesn’t feel so alone.
- Get others involved; ask the person who else they can trust to help. Family, friends, doctor, pastor, etc.
- Follow-up with the person to show you care about them.
Where to find help in Waterloo
- HERE 24/7: 1-844-437-3247 One-stop mental health shop: Call them if you ever feel distressed or in crisis. If you feel suicidal, they will send a mobile crisis team to you in person no matter the time.
- Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454 is a help line specifically for college/university students. You can talk to a trained professional about your problems.
- Grand River Hospital in Kitchener: Go to the emergency department!
Finally, a very important part of QPR is to practice self-care. You may feel guilty about how you handled a situation, or you don’t know what to do about something that’s happening. Get help for yourself!!
For those who aren’t able to make it to a QPR session, I hope this was helpful. However, the seminars and workshops UW Counselling Services offer (QPR is only one of many training tools) are great free resources, whether to use for yourself or to help others. Wishing everyone a great rest of the semester!