September 9 marks the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week, but how many of us really know what to do when we see or hear things that could be construed as “red flags?”
Many have been affected by suicide – a friend, family member or coworker perhaps – but even those who haven’t personally been touched by this tragedy do have their stories. “I got a text about 2 o’clock in the morning, saying, ‘Mr. Bob, I’m thinking about killing myself.’” The guy on the other end of that text was Bob Cummings. Cummings has worked in mental health and ministry for about thirty years. For the past three, he’s been at Red Oak Recovery, a family of addiction recovery programs across the region. “A lot of people who come to the program because of the substance abuse, because of the mental health issues have suicidal issues or suicidal tendencies, or they’re thinking about it or have thought about it in the past, so all the staff are trained to deal with it.”
Cummings is a trainer in something called the QPR method of suicide prevention, created in 1995 by Dr. Paul Quinnett. “Q stands for question. P stands for persuade, and R stands for refer.” Quinnett’s research showed that suicidal people often drop hints, in a subconscious effort to reach out for help. QPR teaches people how to spot red flags, and what to do about them. Like CPR, QPR is an emergency medical intervention, but performed by peers – friends, family or coworkers. “If someone is having a heart attack I’m not going to diagnose I’m not going to go through a protracted appointment with them I’m going to take care of them right here and now.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that almost 45,000 people choose to end their lives each year; that’s roughly 1.3 out of every 10,000, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. But its also probably the most preventable, and according to Cummings, QPR can help even those without a clinical or professional background deal with that 2 am text, like he did. “This was five years ago. She’s in college now, we’re Facebook buddies and she texted me the other day and said, ‘Bob, I want to work at Red Oak Recovery with you.’”
Cummings will hold a free QPR training session hosted by the Smoky Mountain News at 6:30 pm on Sept. 10 at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville. Smoky Mountain News has a news partnership with Blue Ridge Public Radio.