How to help someone who is contemplating suicide
BY EMILY KILLIAN
Patty Schaeffer describes herself as a work in progress. Her life’s work has included battling mental health challenges, drug abuse, and surviving multiple suicide attempts.
“I want you to understand that once upon a time, this is not who I was. I was a thug, someone who was in active addiction, someone who attempted suicide two times myself,” she said. “But those labels do not identify who I am today.”
That’s why she shares her story of recovery and advocates for people who are on the same path she walked herself.
“I want to take a message of hope and recovery to as many people as possible,” she said. “With that lived experience, I’m able to meet people where they’re at.”
Schaeffer said peer and community support is essential to preventing suicides.
“Therapists, doctors and other caregivers have all those letters behind their names, and sometimes that isn’t what people relate to,” she said.
That’s why around 25 people attended QPR, a suicide prevention training program Schaeffer taught at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville on Thursday. The event was organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Sharon Molleur attended the training because she cares about someone who has exhibited some of the suicide warning signs.
“I learned that we should offer help. I thought that maybe you might talk to someone the wrong way, but there really isn’t a wrong way. Helping is the right way,” she said. “Before the training, I felt inadequate. We have resources that can help us.”
Those resources and information were provided by Schaeffer, a state-certified peer support specialist and trainer, who said she is a voice for people who may be contemplating killing themselves.
Suicide is responsible for 31,000 deaths annually in the U.S., making it the eighth-leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.
“A suicide happens every 18 minutes in the United States,” Schaeffer said. “Suicide is our most preventable cause of death.”
The highest risk groups are older while males, and people who have been exposed to violence or trauma such as soldiers, police officers, doctors, nurses and paramedics, Schaeffer said. She describes what she called the triad of death – an upset person, alcohol or drugs, and a firearm.
Although reasons for contemplating suicide vary, the prevention message is succinct: Question. Persuade. Refer.
The QPR prevention method teaches community members how to spot people on the edge, how to talk to someone and ask the right questions, how to persuade the person to get help, and how to rekindle hope and help people to get to resources they need.
Schaeffer described a situation with someone who was threatening suicide and who was able to get into crisis care after Schaeffer asked questions and talked to the woman about the situation.
“I have the hairs standing up on my arms right now,” she said, recalling the experience.
For people who may not know what to do in a similar situation, she has words of encouragement.
“Almost all efforts to get involved will be met with relief,” she said. “Say, ‘I want you to live. You matter.’Get others involved to get the person a group of supporters.”
For someone who is in crisis or who is contemplating suicide, there are local resources available. To reach a local crisis line with Partners Behavioral Healthcare, call 1-888-235-HOPE (4673). Other crisis lines are available through VAYA at 1-800-849-6127 and Cardinal Innovations at 1-800-939-5911.
For more information on Schaeffer, suicide prevention, and substance abuse recovery, log on to her nonprofit, WellSurgent’s web site at https://wellsurgent.com/.