“Ask a question, save a life.” This is the hope of QPR suicide prevention training.

The training, such as the one hosted in Wadena on Sept. 29, highlights the elements of “Question, Persuade and Refer.” The conversations about suicide are in a caring and compassionate way that can build hope as people are able to share.

The QPR method is not counseling or treatment but a way to interrupt an episode of suicidal ideation, as The Heart and Mind Connection executive director Chris Shaw said. People might ask questions like, “How can I support you?” or “Is something going on that we can talk about?” The conversations include asking about suicide, listening non-judgmentally, offering resources and developing a safety plan.

About 20 community members including representatives from Wadena County Public Health, Human Services, 4-H and Wadena-Deer Creek Schools attended the training hosted by The Heart and Mind Connection of Anoka, Eagle’s Healing Nest of Sauk Centre and WDC. The organizations are peer-run, with staff members at Heart and Mind having lived experiences with mental illness and substance use disorder and veteran peers at the Nest.

By stepping into uncomfortable conversations, people can know they aren’t alone in their experiences, as Shaw said. He encouraged people not to wait to ask people about suicide, take the time to listen, allow people to talk freely and be persistent.

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"Is something going on that we can talk about? How can I support you?”

“When somebody’s struggling with a mental illness, and especially around the topic of suicide, I think it is very hard for people to grasp how could this person be struggling so much that they would turn to that instead of just tell me?” Shaw said. “Part of the illness is the way that we interpret stigma, whether it’s stigma from outside, things that people say, or our internal stigma, which could be either, ‘No, no I’ll take care of this I don’t want to bother anybody with this, it’s my problem, I’ll handle it.’ Or ‘I’m so worried that other people will see me as less than, as weak, as lazy, as trying to get out of things.’”

These beliefs come from stigmas surrounding mental health, like the words and actions we use to support people. Shaw gave the example of a person battling cancer: they’re encouraged as warriors, and friends stop by to bring food, sit with people, mow their lawn or send cards. In his own life, he gave the example of returning home exhausted from the hospital after missing medication for his bipolar I disorder, “which is rapid cycling mania and depression.” Instead of coming home to people wanting to make meals, people with mental health battles are told to get up and get out of the house to get better.

While addressing societal stigmas in conversations about suicide, Shaw noted using the phrase “I noticed” instead of “You look” for how people might be feeling. He also said how you ask someone about suicidal ideation matters. The questions “You wouldn’t do something stupid, right?” or “You’re not considering suicide are you?” are not helpful because they ignore the person’s pain. The question itself should be direct, “Are you considering killing yourself?” or “Are you thinking about suicide?” If you are concerned about a friend or family member, talk with them and get another person if you aren’t able to ask about suicide.

“Suicide is not an illness, it is a symptom of a person who is feeling an overwhelming level of emotional pain to the point where they do not know any other way to stop feeling this level of pain they’re feeling,” Shaw said.

Mental illnesses can happen to anyone like any other illness. People can recover and improve symptoms, and people are not only a diagnosis, as Eagle’s Healing Nest director Melony Butler said.

One of the simplest steps Shaw noted is listening to people and being present as best you can. Listening means taking in, processing and then responding—not waiting for your turn to share what you think, as Shaw said.

When a person begins having suicidal ideation, 39% of the time an attempt is acted on in 10 minutes, 40% within one hour and 21% within 24-48 hours. Upon reflecting on his suicide attempt in 2015, Shaw said he was missing human connection, purpose and hope.

“We don’t have to be missing these things,” Butler said. As a Wadena native and 1985 WDC graduate, she said community members like teachers, counselors, police officers, judges and Community Concern for Youth supported her.

At the Eagle’s Healing Nest, a non-profit veterans community with the goal of healing with honor, there are spaces for woodworking, welding, art, working out, riding horses, attending chapel and music. Butler said the Nest offers veterans and their families tools instead of excuses or a free pass with a model based on love.

While working with veterans and having family members in the Minnesota National Guard, Butler has seen how people might join the military to escape their childhood and how mental health impacts become complex.

“They break them down but don’t teach them how to come home,” Butler said. “But a lot of our veterans suffer from a whole lot of things before they ever went to combat and they joined the military for that camaraderie, to find task in purpose and they did, they find that but then what happens is when they’re broken, the government throws them away and then they don’t have that task and purpose.”

In 2017, 89 veterans died by suicide in Minnesota, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2019, 47,511 people in the United States died by suicide, 16,425 by murder and 72,151 by drug-overdose with 49,860 of those deaths involving opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is important to take all signs seriously, as Shaw said. There are signs including direct, indirect, emotional, physical, psychological and behavioral. Some of these signs are:

  • Talking about wanting to die

  • Statements like I’m tired of life, who cares if I’m dead and soon I won’t be around

  • Changes in mood like distraught to calm or calm to distraught

  • Loss of a loved one

  • If someone had a previous suicide attempt

  • Giving away prized possessions

  • Getting affairs in order

  • The end of a career

  • Loss of control

When you’re having these conversations, Shaw emphasizes to come with listening ears, non-judgmentally and with care and compassion.

For more information on QPR training, visit qprinstitute.com. There are also additional trainings like Mental Health First Aid including courses for teens and rural communities.

You can share community strengths, issues and concerns in a suicide prevention community survey with the Minnesota Department of Health.
You can share community strengths, issues and concerns in a suicide prevention community survey with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Here are some resources for people you can talk with:

  • Call 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for veteran crisis line or text MN to 741741, available 24/7

  • Minnesota Warmline Peer Support Connection: Call 1-844-739-6369 daily from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m.

  • Minnesota Warmline: Call 651-288-0400 or toll free 877-404-3190, or text “Support” to 85511 Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.

  • All Seasons Wellness: 218-631-5929

  • Hope Center: 218-631-7693

  • Northern Pines: 218-631-1714 or for appointments 320-639-2025 or 833-316-0698

  • Imagine Mental Health Counseling: 218-632-4300

  • Minnesota Farm & Rural helpline: Call 833-600-2670, text farmstress to 898211 or email farmstress@state.mn.us. confidential support available 24/7

  • Mobile crisis teams: Call **274-747 for in-person counselors for short-term crisis
  • Share the Load: A national support program for firefighters and EMS which is available through the National Volunteer Fire Council website and through the Heroes Health app

  • A confidential mental health screening is available at screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/.