WILMINGTON — It didn’t take long for Ken Houghtaling to know that the young man sitting in front of him was in emotional trouble.
“I could just see it in his eyes,” Houghtaling said. “Like he hadn’t slept. He seemed really tied up in a ball.”
The man was visiting Houghtaling as required under the Intervention in Lieu of Conviction program that Houghtaling supervises for the Clinton County Common Pleas Court.
That’s when Houghtaling’s training in QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer, which is a suicide prevention training he took a few years ago – came to mind. He started asking questions to find out what was happening in this young man’s life.
“It wasn’t good. He felt like things were falling apart around him. He told me that all he could think about all night (before their meeting) was killing himself.”
When he heard those last two words, Houghtaling knew it was going to take some probing to find a way to keep that from happening.
QPR: Like CPR for suicidal people
Barbara Adams Marin, Prevention Program Supervisor with Solutions Community Counseling & Recovery Centers, has been leading QPR training efforts across Warren and Clinton Counties for several years.
She likens QPR to CPR.
“Just as someone who performs CPR doesn’t get involved with treating the underlying condition that led to cardiac arrest, the person applying QPR strategies doesn’t need to be an expert in treating mental illness and isn’t providing counseling or treatment,” she said.
“You’re really acknowledging the person’s desperation, their hopelessness and pain when you step in with QPR. Sometimes just knowing someone understands can break the cycle and get them to start thinking there are other options that the person may not see at the moment.”
QPR was created by Paul Quinnett, the founder and CEO of the QPR Institute. QPR helps people identify and interrupt a person in crisis and direct that person to proper care.
“It’s a really important and impactful training,” said Patti Ahting, associate director of Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties, the local board of mental health and addiction services. “Think about how many people suicide affects every year nationwide.
“It’s estimated at around 775,000 family members who are impacted by a suicide attempt or death. That doesn’t include friends and coworkers.
“Depression and abuse of alcohol and drugs are the leading risk factors for suicide, and there are others, too. You learn to spot things that could indicate someone is thinking about it, and jump in to help prevent it from happening.”
Adams Marin says that the trainings seek to provide some basic understanding about suicide, including how to recognize common risk factors and warning signs.
“We also look to dispel myths about suicide,” she said, “such as there’s nothing you can do to stop a person who’s thinking about suicide, or that talking about suicide will give the person ideas they haven’t already thought about.
“By talking about it, we want to reduce the stigma and shame associated with suicide that prevents people from asking for help.”
Making a plan
Houghtaling’s own training taught him to recognize the warning signs of potential suicide. He heard the words the man said and started asking questions.
“I asked him what he was thinking,” Houghtaling recalled. “He went over the troubles in his life – his marriage, no work, deaths of family members. And topping it all off, someone had stolen a vehicle he’d just bought. It was the snowball effect of it all that had him feeling beaten.”
Houghtaling also found out the man – who had been honorably discharged from military service and diagnosed with a mental illness – was not taking his medication.
One by one, he and the man sitting in his office reviewed each thing going on, and made a plan to tackle the issues one by one: set up an appointment with a counselor, get back to taking his medication as prescribed, look into options for other work.
The only missing ingredient was support.
“I also let him know I was there to be that for him,” Houghtaling said. “I believe having the plan to move forward, and knowing that I was going to be with him at every step … that turned the tide for him. He felt better, and the thought of taking his own life was banished, at least for a while.”
Houghtaling is thankful for taking the QPR training.
“I believe it helped to save a life. There’s no better feeling than that.”
John Cummings is Director of Communications for Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties.