“You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain. I am worried about you. Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
Can you picture yourself saying those exact words to a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or maybe a student? Does the thought make you squirm, just a little? Be honest. Asking someone if they are thinking of killing themselves might be the difference between life and death, and until attending Socializing for Justice’s workshop I was uncomfortable asking the question.
Recently, SoJust held a professional development workshop, led by Robbie Samuels, on the theme of “QPR Suicide Prevention Training for Community Leaders.” QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer and, much like CPR, it offers a potentially life-saving process with which to engage a person who is considering suicide. Samuels recommended we all have it in our toolbox of ways to respond to those needing emergency care. This is especially important information for those of us who work with LGBTQ youth. As a speaker with SpeakOUT, I am regularly talking to young people and their teachers. Being able to share this information and these tools will be helpful in particular because, as the Trevor Project reports, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 10-24 and LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
We don’t talk much about suicide, as if uttering the word could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, or, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort, might invite the villain to visit us. Our silence is effectively reinforcing a taboo that has the destructive consequence of limiting access to support systems and stigmatizing those who would benefit from them. In reality, speaking the question out loud, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” is like turning the valve on a pressure tank and releasing just a bit of air, providing a little more room to breathe. We learned that directly asking someone often allows the person to talk about their suicidal thoughts and to feel that release.
Identifying suicidal warning signs is the first step to helping someone. Direct statements like “I’ve decided to kill myself” or “I wish I were dead” are obvious warning signs that should be taken seriously, but indirect clues such as behavioral changes, giving away prized possessions, or stockpiling pills might also point to suicidal thoughts.*
We also received a packet of materials that included local and national resources that might be useful to helping people through a suicidal episode or other mental health crisis. For more detailed information on how to help, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or visit this listing of suicide hotlines for immediate support resources.
Saving a life begins with one question. So say it with me, out loud, “You seem to be experiencing a lot of pain. I am worried about you. Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
*as listed in the training booklet “Question, Persuade, Refer” by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.
Kara Ammon has been a SpeakOUT member and volunteer since the fall of 2014. She is active in the Boston bisexual community. Kara works with Reconciling Ministry Networks promoting the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in faith communities.