“Ninety percent of the people who attempt suicide and live, never go on to die by suicide,” Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County suicide prevention specialist and QPR trainer Jean Papalia said.
Papalia is hosting a QPR (question, persuade, refer) suicide prevention training at the E.D. Locke Public Library from 6-7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19.
“If you feel fired up that you want to be able to understand suicide and break down the myths and the stigma, and feel like you’re armed with solid information on what to do, then you should be coming to QPR,” Papalia said.
QPR is similar to CPR, in that it is not a treatment, but educates people to recognize warning signs, intervene and assist the person in getting help.
“You take someone in a crisis, you know what to do and you hand them off for further care,” she said.
Papalia is one of 1,500 trainers worldwide certified through the QPR Institute to teach classes.
Through Safe Communities, she can provide training for free to organizations and groups throughout Dane County.
Oftentimes, people show signs they have decided to die by suicide.
“In my case, my husband is a super fit athlete,” she said. “If he starts saying, ‘I feel like there’s an elephant on my chest,’ I’d be looking for the elephant. I wouldn’t believe he’d be having a heart attack even though that’s the classic sign.”
She said this may be similar to how people may react when an unexpected person is suicidal.
“So someone who’s popular and engaged and seems like the life of the party might say something like, ‘Maybe things would be better off if I weren’t around anymore.’ You might not realize that could be a sign that someone is considering taking their own life and you need to find out more,” she said.
Participants are trained to persuade the person to speak openly.
“Once they talk about it, your idea is to start the restoration of hope because being hopeless is one of the key factors of suicide. It’s lethal, hopelessness,” she said.
The final step is to refer people to get help. Most people who struggle with suicidal thoughts have depression, which is treatable in most cases with therapy, lifestyle changes and medication.
Papalia was an officer with the Madison Police Department for 26 years. She worked in the Willy Street neighborhood, where she received her initial interest in mental health after seeing the community’s enthusiasm to help those struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.
She later got a job with the Department of Health Services for the National Violent Death Reporting System at the state level. She reads police, coroner, autopsy and toxicology reports from those who have died by suicide, homicide or undetermined death. She then puts that information in a confidential, shareable form to study demographics of those who have committed suicide.
“It’s an opportunity for me to be able to see how we best prevent suicides,” Papalia said.
Papalia also testified at the Wisconsin State Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 22, to advocate for the role gun shops can play in suicide prevention.
“The severity of the attempt is often based on the proximity of the means,” Papalia said.
Most people who decide to die by suicide choose one plan. When they cannot go forward with that single plan, they are less likely to die by suicide.
Those who try cutting or overdosing die about 3 or 4 percent of the time, versus 90 percent for those who die by firearm.
With a grant money from the state, gun shop owners could store the firearms of a person contemplating suicide for six to nine months through the Safe Storage program. The shop will oil and clean the gun while family and friends intervene.
She explained that QPR training may not be the best for those who have recently lost someone to suicide. Survivors should instead join a support group with other survivors. Participants should also be at least 16 years old.
As the weather gets cooler, Papalia reminds that spring is the worst time for suicides.
“Great things are improving in the weather and outlook, but not in your brain, because you’re living with depression,” Papalia said.
The holiday season can also accentuate loneliness for those without family and friends close to them.
“The holidays can be a rough time for a lot of people,” adult services librarian Ann Engler said. “Sometimes it’s nice to have that extra little boost of, ‘Here’s a way you might be able to help somebody with the holidays.’”
While suicide is complex, Papalia said the solution can be simple.
“There’s a lot we can do, and we can start with QPR,” she said.