Campbell County Health reboots community suicide prevention training efforts

Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Before walking into the community QPR — question, persuade, refer — class Campbell County Health recently hosted, Shelli Lind, 55, knew plenty about the impact suicide has had in the community.

But like the rest of the community members who attended the late January class, she wanted to learn the proper resources and tools to help.

“To know more of what’s available to get people to,” she said of her reason for attending the class. “Sometimes you need to persuade them to go someplace but you’re not exactly sure where they need to go or what’s available other than ‘get them to the hospital.’”

There have been a number of times in her life when she’s been faced with talking down someone close who was in crisis, she said. Although she worked through those situations at the time, knowing the right words to say and ways to approach those conversations could only help.

“We have such a high suicide rate that I just believe everybody needs to know how to prevent it and the more information you have, the better you can help somebody,” Lind said.

Ten people showed up for the community QPR class Jan. 27, about half of the 20 who had signed up, but still a strong turnout considering the late Friday afternoon time slot and looming snowstorm.

The class is not the first community offering for suicide prevention, but for Campbell County Health, it’s a rebooted effort to engage community members in QPR training and suicide awareness.

The 21 suicides in Campbell County last year set a new high-water mark for the county and served as a reminder of the need for more local mental health services and awareness.

The QPR method is similar to CPR, in that it’s considered to be an emergency intervention during a life-threatening crisis. It requires quick, bold and decisive actions.

Training community members to use the QPR method when encountering people who may be suicidal is considered a tool that average people can add to their repertoire and potentially save a life should a moment of crisis arise.

The method teaches how to recognize warning signs of suicide then how to question, persuade and refer the person in crisis to help.

Matt Miller, CCH behavioral health operations manager, hosted the class alongside Barry Shannon, a social worker for inpatients at CCH.

“The more people we can get trained, the more access everyone in the community will have,” Miller said.

The suicide problem in Campbell County and Wyoming is not particularly new.

Wyoming typically ends each year at or near the top of the highest suicide rates per capita in the United States, including in recent years.

From 2009 through 2022, there have been 152 suicides in Campbell County, according to data presented during the class.

Of those, 66.4% were caused by self-inflicted gunshots. The vast majority of those deaths were of men.

At CCH, Miller said that the pandemic-related effects on mental health began presenting about six months into the pandemic, when incidence of isolation, depression and anxiety all began increasing. Those trends and effects appear likely to continue in the coming years, he said.

Maps detailing suicide rates throughout the United States by counties and geographic regions show a heavy skew toward the northern strip of the great plains, with Wyoming right in the center of it all.

It also outlines that the highest suicide rates are often concentrated outside of the highest population centers. While those areas may have more people, they also have more resources to help.

One of the challenges for Campbell County and other rural communities is the lack of mental health providers.

“I can tell you right now every one of these places has a waitlist, including us,” Miller said.

Not only is there a lack of access for mental health resources, there is also a greater access to guns, increased rates of alcohol use, bad weather, seasonal affective disorder and more.

Which again puts the onus on community members to do their part in helping how they can.

The problem is clear. But what’s the solution?

Miller framed the path to suicide as a journey that begins with thoughts then moves to deciding the method. From there it advances to accessing the means, committing to the time and place then finally the attempt and/or death.

Given that trajectory, there are signs along the way and opportunities to intervene before it’s too late.

It begins with the question, which means asking the person who appears in crisis, in one form or another, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” There are softer ways to ask that, but sometimes it requires ripping the band-aid off and being direct, Miller said.

The next step is to persuade the person to stay alive. Listen with full attention and not to judge. Ask the person to promise not to commit suicide until working together to find him or her help.

The final step is to refer the person to the help he needs and take him directly to that form of help. If that’s not possible, get him to commit to and arrange for help. At least, give a referral and have him commit to follow through. Build trust and help him find his support system throughout.

With the right tools, the hope is for community members to be prepared to identify others in crisis and guide them to the help they need. The idea is that in doing so, it could go a long way toward narrowing the gap between demand and availability of services in Campbell County.

By the time the class ended, Lind was satisfied with the time spent learning more about a difficult topic. She learned of the new suicide hotline — calling or texting 988 — and left with a wallet-sized card with the warning signs of suicide-prevention resources to call.

“I think it’s great that they’re having this class and I hope they continue to offer it so that more people can get the training,” she said. “I think if more people had the training and knew the warning signs, that we could save more lives.”


This story was published on Feb. 7, 2023.





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