Local officials advocate for suicide prevention training

FILE PHOTO: Alone and depressed

CACHE COUNTY – Local officials and health advocates agree that there are two pandemics loose in northern Utah.

The obvious one is, of course, the coronavirus. Jordan Mathis, the new director of the Bear River Health Department, recently told the KVNU radio audience that the solution to that public health crisis is vaccinations.

The other pandemic is a mental health crisis that has resulted in more than a dozen suicides in Cache County since Jan. 1. During a Mar. 23 meeting of the Cache County Council, Mathis stressed the benefits of QPR Training as a response to that second pandemic.

“That’s Question, Persuade and Refer training,” Mathis explained. “It’s a research-based program focusing on suicide-prevention.

“It’s about questioning (the state of mind of someone contemplating suicide), persuading the individual to reconsider and then referring them to services that can help. And you don’t need to be a clinician to do these simple, helpful things.”

QPR training is a practical and proven suicide prevention technique jointly developed by mental health advocacy groups in the Spokane region of Washington during the late 1990s.

That training program is also strongly endorsed by Terryl Warner, director of Victim Services in the office of the Cache County Attorney.

A concerned individual can become a qualified QPR “gatekeeper” in as little as two hours, with the training delivered either online or in-person. The QPR curriculum covers national and state suicide statistics; the warning signs of suicide; ways to begin the questioning, persuading and referral process; and role playing to perfect intervention skills.

QPR advocates say that a trained gatekeeper will be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide, know how to offer hope to someone in distress and also know where and how to obtain help to save a life.

The Huntsman Mental Health Institute in Salt Lake City reports that up to 40 percent of Americans are now experiencing some symptoms of depression or anxiety. Here in Utah, increased stress levels have sparked more than 11,000 monthly calls to the SafeUT crisis hotline, which translates to 350 requests for help per day.

But QPR advocates say that individuals most at risk for suicide are those who are least likely to reach out for that kind of help.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Utah’s rate of suicide has tended to exceed the national rate of similar deaths in recent years. In 2019, for example, Utah’s suicide rate was 21.2 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to a nationwide suicide rate of 14.5 deaths per capita. The suicide rate in the Bear River Health Department’s three-county area also slightly exceeded the national average in 2019.

The Utah Department of Health reports that an average of 70 Utahns per day are treated for self-inflicted injuries. State officials add that more than 60 percent Utah students in grade 6 through 12 have reported experiencing at least mildly depressive symptoms.

Mathis said recently that awareness of those dire statistics has led to increased local demand for QPR training.

“What started as two or three sessions (hosted by BRHD officials) for 35 people each,” he emphasized, “turned into 18 sessions … in the past year, delivered mostly via Zoom technology. That’s a total of more than 600 people, including teachers, parents and others, who have now been trained as suicide prevention gatekeepers.”

Additional information about QPR Training can be found online at https://brhd.org/classes/ or by calling 435-792-6500.

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