Asking questions can save a life

Suicide prevention training offered in Chocolay Township

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MARQUETTE — When it comes to preventing suicide every person in every walk of life can be a gatekeeper.

That’s the message that the Marquette County Health Department and the Chocolay Township Police set out to convey during a Suicide Prevention and Awareness training at the Chocolay Township Hall Thursday.

MCHD health educator Sara Derwin said while the true impact of suicide may be known, it has been named the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S — causing 13.9 deaths in every 100,000 people from 2005 to 2015. Michigan rates were similar with 13.7 deaths attributed to suicide in every 100,000 with the rate in the Upper Peninsula slightly higher at 14.2, and the rate in the city of Marquette significantly lower at 9.6 per 100,000.

“And we know that there are people out there that die by suicide that we just don’t know about for a variety of reasons,” Derwin said. “But what we do know is that communities that have a lot of gatekeepers have lower rates of suicide.”

Derwin said a gatekeeper is anyone in a position to recognize a crisis and warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide.

“It’s not possible for your family doctor, counselor or mental health professional to know everyone that needs help at all times,” Derwin said, “That’s why everyone needs to be familiar with QPR.”

QPR stands for question, persuade and refer, Derwin said, which derives its name from the more commonly recognized CPR, because both function as a chain of survival.

“If you notice someone having a heart attack and perform CPR, that doesn’t mean you are going to go to the hospital and perform open heart surgery on that patient, right?” Derwin said. “But if you had not performed CPR, that person may not have survived to get on the operting table, the same idea QPR.”

Gatekeepers can be anyone and does not require or ask a person to take on the role of a mental health therapist or counselor, the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance website states.

The QPR training is designed to help gatekeepers recognize the warning signs of suicide, offer hope and know how to get help or where to refer.

Suicide is the premeditated taking of one’s own life, and is rarely an impulsive act, Derwin said. Therefore people who are suicidal give off warning signs.

Some of these behavioral clues may include: Stockpiling pills, suicide threats, previous suicide attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, prolonged depression, putting personal business affairs in order, making funeral plans, giving away money or prized possessions, changes in behavior, especially episodes of screaming, hitting, throwing things, or failure to get along with family friends or peers, sudden interest or disinterest in church or religion, purchasing a gun or making or changing a will.

Acute warning signs that a person may be suicidal include:

Suffering from severe anxiety and turmoil and unable to calm down for even a short time as evidenced by pacing, wringing of hands, trouble focusing or sitting still; ruminating about the same thing over and over again – for example an irrational fear, and cannot be calmed down. In conversation, they keep coming back to the same topic, worry or focus; Has gone without sleep for several days and cannot get to sleep or stay asleep; suffering delusions of gloom and doom and belief that something terrible or unavoidable is about to happen especially if they cannot be talked out of this belief; recent alcohol intoxication and over-drinking whether or not the person has been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. Heavy drinking may be an effort to self-medicate to alleviate insomnia or anxiety.

The first step in QPR is to ask the question.

There are many different ways to broach the subject of whether a friend or loved one is considering suicide.

MCHD QPR trainer Emily Pratt said gatekeepers can use an indirect question like, “Have you been unhappy lately,” or a more direct question such as “Are you thinking about suicide?

“Keep in mind, one isn’t better than the other, less direct, more direct. They are both effective,” Pratt said.

She said talking to someone about suicide is not more likely to make them commit suicide.

“That is a myth, it’s just the opposite,” Pratt said. “Keep in mind, suicide is not the problem, only the solution to a perceived insoluble problem to that person.”

If the person says yes, they are considering suicide, Pratt said, that is when the gatekeeper should begin to persuade the person to get help.

Once a person who is considering suicide has been persuaded to get help, Derwin said, there several options including calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8225; text TALK to 741741; visit or; call 800-562-7622.

If person cannot be persuaded by a friend or family member, there is also the option of calling 911.

Chocolay Township Police Officer Anthony Carrick said the help the police offer does not necessarily mea officers will take any other action but to talk to the individual and offer help.

“Once we get there -what we are looking for- we have to believe that they’re posing a threat to themselves or others,” Carrick said. “if someone is threatening to commit suicide or to harm somebody else, we have the right as a member of law enforcement to take the individual into protective custody, down to the hospital, a doctor will speak to them, generally a person from Pathways or another agency will come and talk to them and a determination will be made about in-patient treatment, out-patient treatment and (or)medication.”

Carrick said when calling the police about someone you suspect is suicidal it helps to give as much information as possible.

“(Do you know) do they have a plan; do they have a means of committing suicide; how long have they been suicidal. Those things really help us in doing our job,” Carrick said.

He said if there are firearms in the house, they may be temporarily confiscated by the police.

“If a house has firearms, we may seize (them), because we don’t want that person to have access to those firearms….until the crisis is gone away,” Carrick said. “They’ll get their firearms back when it gets to that point, we are not going to take them forever, we just want to keep them safe.”

Anyone interested in QPR training for their agency, school or group should contact Sarah Derwin at (906) 315-2621 or Emily Pratt at 906-315-2630 to set up a training.

Trainings are free of charge, and are able to scheduled on-site either during daytime or evening hours, Derwin said.

“Remember all of the statistics, all of these numbers, they are somebody someone loved and cared about,” Derwin said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is