For the first time in at least nine years, a master trainer in suicide prevention has been invited to Montana to prepare educators, clergy, medical personnel and others to teach suicide prevention in communities throughout the state.
The training, set for May 9-10 in Helena, is prompted by mental health professionals in Montana calling the state’s suicide epidemic a “public health crisis.” Topics will include common mental illnesses; social media, isolation and suicide; adolescent self-injury and cutting; and substance abuse, addiction and suicide.
During 2010, at least 227 Montanans killed themselves. Another 225 people committed suicide in 2011. That’s about 22 people per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the national average.
Montana’s suicide rate has ranked in the top five nationally for more than three decades and recently has spiked.
The workshop was the idea of Judy Griffith and Elinor Edmunds Miller, both certified suicide prevention instructors from Helena. Edmunds Miller has said she is “horrified” by the number of people who have killed themselves in the state. She also has long questioned whether the state’s current suicide prevention efforts are adequate and efficient.
Edmunds Miller, co-founder of the Montana chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Griffith have been training others in QPR — Question, Persuade and Refer, which defines the three action steps needed when suicide warning signs are observed. But the growing demand for more trainers in the state outpaced their availability to prepare them.
“It was becoming so overwhelming,” Griffith said.
QPR is a CPR-equivalent for mental health emergencies, she said. It is an emergency response to someone in a suicide crisis. Like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, early recognition of warning signs, early intervention, professional assessment and care save lives.
Workshop attendees will be certified in QPR for three years. The last time a statewide QPR training workshop was held was in September 2004 with professionals from the Spokane, Wash.-based QPR Institute.
QPR training, "when taught with fidelity, is a highly effective mechanism to teach lay people the risk factors, warning signs and situational clues that someone is considering suicide,” Edmunds Miller said.
It teaches people how to intervene by asking the person if he or she is considering suicide, then persuading the person in distress that help is available, and taking that person to the appropriate resource for help.
Debi Traeder, who achieved master training status five years ago and lives in Wisconsin, will lead the workshop. Traeder said the training is critical in a rural and isolated state like Montana, where mental health services are inadequate.
“The more people there are who are professionally trained and know what to do, the better chance there is to keep people alive,” Traeder said.
The workshop is being sponsored by the Helena chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Montana Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Montana Safeway Stores and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Missoula Safeway employees had read about the state’s disproportionately high rate of suicide in a series of Billings Gazette stories published statewide and began to question what they could do to help. They chose to donate a portion of their paychecks to an organization dedicated to combating suicide.
“NAMI-Helena stood out to us, so we provided them a $2,500 grant to utilize for their greatest need,” said Dan Cruson, district manager for Montana Safeway stores. “We are thrilled to learn that it assisted in getting important suicide prevention training into the state of Montana.”