Article by: Emily Karmy and Elizabeth Ruth
Est. reading time: 5 minutes

If you are experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK. In the event of a life-threatening emergency call 911.

Right now, in the United States, a person dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Although often misunderstood, suicide is the most preventable type of death, and we all have an important role to play in saving lives.

The Ripple Effect of Suicide in Communities

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the U.S. and the 8th leading cause of death in our state. Here in Skagit, suicide rates have been consistently higher than the state overall. In 2018, local data show a suicide rate of 19 per 100,000 residents in Skagit vs 16.9 per 100,000 in Washington. While rates can help us understand the big picture of suicide, they are merely a placeholder for the very real lives of those lost to suicide.

The impact is large for every suicide death, but can be especially severe in small, tight-knit communities like ours. Research by Julie Cerel, Ph.D of the University of Kentucky and her colleagues shows that for every suicide death:
• 135 are exposed
• 53 have short term disruption in life
• 25 have a major life disruption
• 11 have devastating effects on their life

For the roughly 48,000+ Americans who die by suicide each year, there are over one million individuals left behind who feel the devastating impacts of suicide. These numbers may feel staggering but Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) offers hope for preventing further loss of life.

QPR is an evidence-based suicide prevention course offered by United General District 304. Participants learn how to recognize the signs and risk factors of suicide, offer hope to individuals, and refer them to the appropriate resources. This type of suicide prevention training isn’t just for experts like doctors or psychologists. In fact, The QPR Institute says just the opposite.

Who is QPR for?

Everyone can learn the three simple steps to help save a life taught in QPR. Like CPR, QPR is an emergency intervention which can help save thousands of lives each year. Seattle and King County have some of the highest rates of survival for cardiac arrests (heart attacks). Why? Well, it isn’t because everyone is trained as a cardiac surgeon. Rather, it is because a large portion of the community is trained on how to respond to a cardiac emergency.

Similarly, QPR utilizes what is called a gatekeeper method. Training more people with the basic skills to ask directly about suicide, listen and offer hope, and connect someone thinking about suicide to professional help, strengthens a community’s ability to recognize and prevent suicide. A gatekeeper can be any adult in a position to recognize and refer someone to help, no matter their occupation. Gatekeepers can be parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, co-workers, care providers, etc… The list goes on and on because anyone can be a gatekeeper in their community! In fact, suicide prevention takes place in many settings such as schools, primary care offices, emergency departments, faith communities, behavioral health care centers, workplaces, homes, and more.

The goal of every training is for participants to come away with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to apply QPR. During an hour-long QPR course, a certified instructor covers:

  • common myths and facts about suicide
  • warning signs for suicide
  • how to ask the suicide question
  • offering hope and information
  • local and national resources for referrals

Instructors answer questions throughout the training until participants feel comfortable with the material. After completing the training, each person receives a certificate, QPR booklet, and information on local mental health resources. One participant let us know exactly how QPR changed their perspective:

“I think the biggest thing I didn’t realize prior to the class was that asking directly if someone is contemplating suicide is the right thing to do. That was huge (thank you!).” – QPR Participant

Even though QPR works with any person in crisis, some groups such as farmers, veterans, and youth face unique stressors and risks for suicide. To address this, extended (90-minute) QPR courses can be centered on understanding and applying QPR specifically with these folks. For example, we recently partnered with our local PFLAG chapter, an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals, their parents, families, and allies, to hold a youth specific QPR training. The core of the training remained the same and additional information taught participants when and how to apply QPR in the most effective manner to youth.

Other groups trained have included Skagit Guardian Ad Litem professionals and Skagit Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services staff. In total, we trained 160 community members and professionals in QPR last year. District 304 would like to double that number in 2021 and share this valuable knowledge with as many people as possible. Will you commit to becoming QPR trained this year?

Join us in Preventing Suicide

Free 60-minute community QPR trainings are offered several times a month. To register, please fill out a registration form here. Trainings in Spanish and for organizations or groups are also available. If you would like to set up a group training, or have general questions about QPR or suicide prevention, please contact Alice Michaelson at .

Looking for more resources? Check out our Mental Health Promotion page and follow the District 304 Facebook page for updates and posts related to mental health.