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Updated 10:00 AM November 13, 2006
 

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New program trains responders to recognize suicide warnings

What does one do when a student, a friend or a colleague is showing signs that he or she may be at risk for suicide? To better equip University community members in that situation, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is launching a major suicide prevention initiative called QPR (for Question, Persuade and Refer).

QPR is a behavioral intervention that focuses on getting a distressed individual referred for professional help. It is intended to teach front-line people (e.g., resident advisers, academic advisers, physicians, friends, religious professionals, faculty and staff who regularly come into contact with students) how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, including verbal, behavioral and situational clues, says Todd Sevig, director of CAPS.

"We know from research that early detection of mental health issues gives a much greater prognosis for recovery, and that early intervention can sometimes be critical. This is why there is such an emphasis on warning signs and help-seeking behavior," Sevig says. "The ultimate goal is to ensure that students who need help get help.

"There are many resources on campus to accomplish this, but it can be hard for folks to know exactly how to encourage students to get help."

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 1,100 suicides and 24,000 suicide attempts occur annually among U.S. college students ages 18-24. This translates to a suicide rate of approximately 7.5 per 100,000 college students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that suicide is the third-leading cause of death after unintentional injuries and homicides in people aged 15-24 years in the United States.

CAPS receives daily phone calls from faculty, staff and students about their concerns over a student in distress, Sevig says.

"We are able to provide the resources on a case-by-case basis, but we have come to realize a more systematic intervention is needed," he says. "The goal of QPR is to provide the larger community with the necessary tools to help students in distress.

"CAPS is joining 60 other colleges and universities across the country in this nationally recognized suicide prevention program that has the overall goal of helping us as a community in our varied roles on campus, to help students."

Much like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), QPR is designed to be easily learned and applied by everyone, including people outside of mental health professions, says Christine Asidao, assistant director for outreach and education at CAPS. The training provides direction in how to question a person about suicidal thoughts, how to persuade the person to get help and how to refer the person for help.

"For years, CAPS staff has worked closely with our Division of Student Affairs colleagues, with academic units, with student groups and other mental health sites on campus and in Ann Arbor," says Asidao. "These liaison relationships have worked to create an environment for students in which stigma is reduced about seeking help, and in which faculty and staff can recognize the warning signs of students in distress and refer them for help. In short, we are trying to weave a web of caring and support," Asidao says.

CAPS staff members have completed the eight-hour QPR Gatekeeper Instructor Course and now are certified and licensed to provide Gatekeeper training to University staff and faculty interested in learning how to effectively help students in distress. CAPS is offering this two-hour training to units and departments across campus.

To request training for a unit or department go to www.umich.edu/~caps/, and click on the QPR link on the homepage.

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