QQQ 32 June 19, 2019: Applying the Models for Mass-Disaster Family Assistance to All Tragedies, Regardless of Numbers or Cause, Could Result in Saving Lives

QPR Quick Quotes: June 19, 2019 Applying the Models for Mass-Disaster Family Assistance to All Tragedies, Regardless of Numbers or Cause, Could Result in Saving Lives
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June 19, 2019

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Applying the Models for Mass-Disaster Family Assistance to All Tragedies, Regardless of Numbers or Cause, Could Result in Saving Lives

– Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.

Suicide prevention is not so much the stopping of self-inflicted death as it is the restoration of hope in the hopeless before the fatal planning begins.

                                                 -Paul Quinnett, Ph.D., and Founder and CEO, QPR Institute 

About the Foundation’s use of the QPR Gatekeeper’s Model 

    In updating the Family Assistance Foundation’s case study research, I have recently re-interviewed several parents whose children died in workplace disasters where many lives were lost. Learning to live with depression for several years became a way of life for all of them, as is true for most parents whose children are killed in a traumatic event.  Longitudinal research shows a direct link between losing a child in a traumatic event and traumatic grief reactions[1]. Yet, without exception, our interviews showed that when the company delivered a compassionate, proactive approach for supporting the family members left behind, the parents were more hopeful about their futures.     

    In our corporate members’ QPR Gatekeeper classes, we encourage employee responders to adopt the same models used by the corporation’s care and special assistance teams which were initially developed for mass casualty response for helping all individuals when death occurs in a family. The following story is an example of where adaptation of the multi-casualty response model used by most airlines today was warranted, despite the size of the airplane or number of people involved.   

Mary’s Story, QPR Quick Quotes, January 16, 2019 

    Earlier this year, I wrote about a woman who planned to end her life, after her husband and son died in the crash of a private airplane flown by a close family friend who also died in the accident.  The pilot’s son was also killed in the crash.  In this woman’s story, there was no organization to offer financial assistance and other practical resources, and in her own family of origin and social group, no one understood her need to create her own new life following the losses. Everyone in her personal circle wanted her to live the life she knew before, despite the loss of her husband, her son, and income. She faced her future alone. There were no group support meetings as is now the norm for family survivors in other workplace disasters.

    The sense of isolation coupled with lack of financial resources, had pushed this woman to the brink of suicide. It was only when her deceased son came to her in a dream, telling her that she needed to remain on earth and raise his siblings, was she able to gather the strength to create a new life for herself.  Depression associated with the loss of her son and husband, left unchecked would have been another example of a suicide which resulted from undiagnosed depression.       

    The tragic loss of this mother had she died by her own hand would have increased the death count of the fatal crash from four to five. Because research shows that children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to die the same way, there is no way to know how many more fatalities the crash might have yielded[2]. Her suicide would have left her other two children more likely to die the same way. 

When my brother died in a freak accident with a horse, no one called to offer us transportation, lodging, so we could go to his funeral and support his wife and children. When my son was killed in an airline crash, all of our family were flown to the funeral and provided lodging, ground transportation, and other financial support.  What the airline did was an enormous gift to us. At the memorial, we were able to connect with other families for long term support. 

-Merrilee, mother of Chad who died in US Air Flight 427, September 8,1994

     The Foundation’s Human Services Response™ (HSR ), models based on our research of survivors of mass casualty events in the workplace, provides the basis for how we train an organization’s employees to support survivors. The above quote from Merrilee whose son died in US Air Flight 427, in 1994 where a total of 132 perished, points toward the kind of practical offerings that make a difference to families like her own[3]. Unlike the example of the mother who received no support, Merrilee’s gratitude toward the company offset any tendency to feel anger or bitterness toward the company whose airplane her son died on that fateful day in September. HSR™ is easily adaptable to support one family, as it is based on working with one family at a time, regardless of the overall fatality count. Donna’s story provides another example of where this approach was successful in giving family members hope. 

United was good to us. They let us bring as many people as we wanted to the funeral, and they paid for them to stay in a hotel.
-Donna, mother of Anita who died in United Airlines Flight 585, March 1991

     Donna’s daughter, Anita who was a flight attendant, died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 585 in Colorado Springs, CO where all 25 people on board died. Donna and her husband tried for 11 years to conceive. When Anita was born, she was worth the wait, as she was so perfect. Anita was beautiful, bright, and her parents’ pride and joy. At twenty-one years of age, Anita had been flying for less than a year when she died in the crash. 
    Due to impact forces, Anita’s remains, like all of those on board were not viewable—making the Catholic funeral services less than traditional.  When I met Donna, nearly nine years had passed since the crash, and the mystery of what caused the fatal accident had finally been resolved. The crash was attributed to a faulty rudder design, which meant that with re-design, no other aircraft would have the same flawed system—and lives would now be saved because of what was learned from this crash and the one where Merrilee’s son died.  Both accidents resulted from a rudder design problem.
     Once it was clear that lives could be saved in the future as a result of the investigation, Donna could now find meaning in the tragedy and was able to move forward. The research cited earlier about the relationship between traumatic death of a child and long-term adjustment issues, shows that finding meaning in a death helps parents in their recovery.  The lack of answers in the meantime though, contributed to the overwhelming grief that she felt in those first years, post-crash. 
    While Donna was never suicidal, depression was her constant companion. Particularly during holidays and Christmas time. It seemed that other people’s joy with their children, as is often the case, seemed to exacerbate her own lack of holiday spirit. Yet, when Donna was able to reflect on what helped her initially, there were many heartwarming examples of how the airline used their resources to help her and their family in the initial phase of the crisis when they could not help themselves.  
    In addition to bringing the family members together, as many as they wanted, and covering all expenses associated with their travel and stay for the funeral, the company also purchased roses so that all 450 people who attended the funeral, including sixty flight attendants, all dressed in uniform, could place a long-stem red rose on Anita’s casket. The airline also bought champagne for the reception, at Donna’s request. United Airlines also flew the flight attendants’ families to the memorial at LaGuardia and invited them to the annual meeting in Hawaii that Summer. Several survivors, including Donna were the last to leave the reception that first night.  

Supporting Traumatized Employees 
    Organizations that we work with wisely engage counselors from their employee assistance program to help their employees who are directly or indirectly exposed to the trauma of the magnitude of the disaster in their workplace. However, there are other ways that employees who may fall prey to long-term effects of the crash can be helped. In the case where Anita was killed, actions toward her fellow-flight attendants were precious in assisting them to return to work but also re-engage with others, a known variable in helping the fight against depression.  
    When one of Anita’s flight attendant friends was ready to return to work, she was given the same schedule that Anita had flown.  When she brought this to leadership’s attention explaining why the schedule was upsetting for her, she was given a different fight series.  This and other examples of empathic responses to the lingering emotions of co-workers and family members helped restore a sense of emotional safety. Recognition of the importance of after-actions toward all who were traumatized by the crash contributed to the healing of the entire airline family as well as individual family members, like Donna, who learned of it later.

Since many suicidal people do not seek help, the prevention of their deaths is difficult. But since not seeking help is a known symptom of suicidality, the task of prevention lies more with those persons in the sufferer’s existing social network than in the person contemplating suicide.
-Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.

    While no one feels lucky to lose a loved one in these or any circumstances, many family members have shared with me in great detail how much the services and support provided to them meant. Having an organization offer assistance during the time they were in the helpless, dependency phase of trauma was priceless. The Foundation’s training of the QPR Gatekeeper models underscores the need to respond to all survivors of traumatic loss, be it one or multiple individuals with the same proactive, practical and compassionate response.  We invite employees and families of all organizations to our classes. We do not limit our training and use of case study research to only our members; they are open to anyone.
    Mary’s story is a perfect example of how easily a parent, or anyone for that matter, can slip away unnoticed and become another statistic supporting the current research which states that suicide rates are increasing due to undiagnosed depression. Merrilee and Donna’s stories remind us that regardless of the number of lives lost, be it one or many, those that are willing can learn what to notice, what to do—and save a life.

[1] Rogers, C.H, Floyd, F.J., Seltzer, M.M., Greenberg, J., and Hong, J. Long-Term Effects of the death of a Child on Parents’ Adjustment in Midlife. Journal of Family Psychology (April 2010). [2] Children who lose a parent to suicide more likely to die the same way. Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (2010) 
[3] Coarsey, C. V. Handbook for Human ServicesResponse (2004)


About QPR

QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, and is a research-based intervention that anyone can learn. If you are interested in learning more about how to become a Gatekeeper and becoming part of a more extensive network that is dedicated to suicide prevention, please contact us. The Foundation works with the QPR Institute to customize this successful intervention for cruise lines, aviation companies, human resources professionals, and other workplace groups. To learn more about the training classes offered by the Family Assistance Foundation, and for information about upcoming Gatekeeper classes and how you can become a trainer within your workplace go to fafonline.org. You can also contact Cheri Johnson at cheri.johnson@aviem.com

Upcoming Gatekeeper Trainings

Atlanta Gatekeeper Training

September 27, 2019

Atlanta Train-the-Trainer Training

September 27, 2019

QPR Gatekeeper and Train-the-Trainer Training will be offered at additional locations when additional dates for Foundation Member-Partner Meetings are announced for 2019.

© 2019 QPR Institute Inc./Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation

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