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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

QPR program: the first line of defense against suicide

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Knowing how to approach and talk to a person who may be suicidal is a key component of the QPR suicide prevention program offered to any group on the community by the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center. Shelly Kelley, program coordinator for the center, photo below, trains people how to recognize and respond to people who might be contemplating taking their own life. (Shutterstock Images; submitted. photo, below)

What do you say to a person who is considering suicide? Just as important, what don’t you say? What steps can you take to make sure your friend, loved one or even an acquaintance doesn’t follow through?

Finally, who is the most important person for that person to talk to when they are considering that final act?

It turns out, according to Shelly Kelley, an outreach and training coordinator for Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center (SEKMHC), the most important person can be the friend who doesn’t shy away from the subject and takes steps to make sure that person seeks the help he or she needs.

Kelley conducted workshops on the QPR Institute’s Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Program earlier this fall at the La Cygne Library The workshops focus suicide prevention and is looking for other groups that would take the training.

A QPR Certified Gatekeeper instructor, Kelley is also certified to teach the QPR+ Pathfinder program, which is geared toward students high school age and younger as well as teachers and administrators.

She also said that she is looking to offer the program to other groups including first responders, government workers and veterans.

Kelley begins her workshops by exploding myths about suicide. One of those myths is that people who talk about suicide don’t follow through. Instead, she said, people who talk about suicide may try or even complete an act of self-destruction.

And while another myth is that nothing can be done once a person decides to commit suicide, the fact is that suicide is the most preventable kind of death and almost any positive action may save a life.

QPR stands for the three steps a person can take when they learn that a person is considering suicide. Question. Persuade. Refer.

Kelley said that the program is not a form of counseling. Instead QPR is a sort of first aid that will lead to professional counseling.

“People who get counseling usually don’t attempt suicide again,” she said. However, she added that everyone can prevent suicide by being a friend and listening.

Most people who are considering it communicate their plans to someone, even if that someone is just an acquaintance, she said.

The warning signs include direct verbal clues, indirect verbal clues, behavioral clues and situational clues.

Direct verbal clues can include the person uttering phrases like:

  • “I’ve decided to kill myself.”

  • “I wish I were dead.”

  • “I’m going to commit suicide.”

  • “I’m going to end it all.”

“Every one of those comments deserves some kind of action,” Kelley said.

Indirect verbal clues are less upfront but still worth noting. They include phrases like:

  • “I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on.”

  • “My family would be better off without me.”

  • “Who cares if I’m dead anyway?”

  • “I won’t be around much longer.”

Behavioral clues include acquiring guns, stockpiling pills, drug and alcohol abuse or a relapse and even posts on Facebook. Kelley pointed out that men are more likely to commit suicide by using a handgun.

Situational clues can include:

  • Being fired from a job or expelled from school,

  • Loss of a relationship including divorce or a breakup (“If you leave me, “I’m going to kill myself”),

  • The death of a loved one, especially by suicide,

  • Diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness,

The first step in a successful suicide intervention is the “Q” – talking to the person about their thoughts on suicide, Kelley said. That can be a direct or some subtle approach.

“Are you thinking about suicide?” Or “When people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometime wish they were dead; I’m wondering if you are feeling that way too?” Are examples of a direct approach.

A more subtle approach is “Have you been so very unhappy lately that you’ve been thinking about ending your life?” Or “Do you wish you could go to sleep and never wake up.”

Kelley urged the attendees at the workshop to ask the person the question whether it is more or less direct. “How you ask the question is less as important than that you asked it,” she said.

She also pointed out what not to ask the person who is considering suicide:

  • “You’re not thinking of killing yourself, are you?”

  • “You wouldn’t do anything stupid would you?”

  • “Suicide is a dumb idea. Surely you are not thinking about suicide, are you?”

The second step is Persuade, the “P.” Convincing the a person of their importance becomes key once he or she acknowledges that suicide is being considered.

“I want you to live” and “I’m on your side…we’ll get through this” indicates a willingness to help the person through whatever issues they are facing.

It also helps to get others involved in becoming a support team for the person considering suicide. Family members, friends and religious leaders can help persuade the person that their life is worth living, Kelley said.

The final step is Refer, the “R” in QPR. Referring the person to counseling is important as well. Even if the person doesn’t want to contact a counselor or therapist immediately, at least getting them to commit to taking that step is important, Kelley said.

To contact Kelley about setting up a QPR workshop, which takes less than two hours, call her at (620) 228-8020 or send her an email at

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