Our Reactions to the Person at Risk for Suicide
-Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D.
Last week at the Foundation’s America’s Partner Meeting in Miami, Florida,
we trained new Gatekeepers from several cruise lines, aviation companies
and, other industries. Many in the class expressed interest in becoming
QPR Gatekeeper Trainers to present Gatekeeper training to peers,
co-workers, community members, family members and other groups.
The Foundation will host a Train-the-Trainer class September 27, in Atlanta,
Georgia at our annual Family Support Representative Training. If you
would like to become a trainer, please contact Stephen Young,
“Suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are serious business,
but need not lead to death."
-Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.,
Founder & CEO, QPR Institute
At the training in Miami, June 20, 2018, several questions came up that
prompted this week’s QPR Quick Quote. Someone asked for more
information about the effects of a Gatekeeper’s reactions to the person at
risk, be it family, friend, co-worker, or peer. To answer, I will take
information from Dr. Quinnett’s published leaflet entitled Leaves of Hope.
First, Dr. Quinnett reminds us that our reactions to a suicide crisis are
important. And we should always remember that ultimately, people who
kill themselves are responsible for that final decision, even though the
decision may be clouded by depression, anger, drugs, or alcohol and
sadly, when the decision is made by someone too young to understand
the finality of death.
When the person you are trying to help, i.e., your child, friend, or loved
one, expresses a wish to die or has acted upon this desire, you may
wonder if you are somehow to blame. The answer is "No". Many things
always determine suicide. Despite our natural desire to point to a single
cause, there is no simple, single answer to this most complex human
behavior. Therefore, you cannot assume total responsibility for the acts,
thoughts, or feelings of another person even if you have been blamed or
feel guilty for what has happened.
Denial is one-way people deal with bad news. Because suicide is so
frightening, someone threatening suicide often causes us to deny that
anything "really serious" is wrong. We repeat to ourselves the popular
myth, "People who talk about suicide don't do it." This is wrong.
People who talk about suicide often do go on to take their own lives.
Denial, then, can be dangerous. When we deny someone else’s reality
and how much pain they must be in to consider suicide, we put both
of us at increased risk.
Dr. Quinnett’s explanation of how denial of the pain experienced by
those who threaten suicide can lead to lethal results for both the
suicidal person and the helper, reminded me of a co-worker's tragic
mistake with her son, years ago. In the early eighties, when society
first began to learn of AIDS, someone that I worked with discovered
that her twenty-one-year-old son had tested positively for HIV. Her
son went into a deep depression and with her assistance, sought
mental health support along with medical treatment.
Over the next couple of years, he began to express his desire to die,
rather than face what he feared was a future of suffering, followed by
slow death. My co-worker had more than one conversation with her
son on the subject of suicide as being the answer to his emotional and
psychological pain. After several months, she began to lose her patience
with his threats to take his life. One morning he called to say that he
could not carry the burden any longer. Feeling impatient and confident
that he would not end his life since he had threatened to do so for nearly
two years, she angrily replied, "Go ahead and do it. I am tired of hearing
you talk about it!" Within an hour she received a call from a hospital
employee informing her that her son had ended his life with a handgun.
Now my colleague had to grieve her son’s death, and she would forever
be haunted by her denial over her son’s pain and intense suffering—and
his last cry to her for help. Her guilt was overwhelming. She talked about
this daily during the time I worked with her. She repeatedly said that
because her son talked so much about suicide, she never thought he
would take his life. I have often thought about how a little bit of education
on the myths surrounding suicide would have helped her, and likely
empowered her to provide better support for her son. While she may not
have saved him, a better-informed response on her part might have
prevented her from suffering the guilt and shame over the way she
responded on their last phone call.
Shock, Fear and Anger
"Anger is often an expression of our fear, and you have every right
to be fearful of what might happen."
-Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.,
Founder & CEO, QPR Institute
In Leaves of Hope, Dr. Quinnett also reminds us that it is understandable
to feel shock, fear and even anger that someone we care about is
thinking of ending their life by their own hand. My friend in the above
example had grown accustomed to her son's threats and had even
become angry and impatient with the way he was coping with his
When someone we care about is expressing a wish to die, it is one of the
most disturbing communications we can hear. No doubt this mother was
frightened over learning that her son thought suicide was the only answer
to his tragic dilemma. She felt hopeless and helpless about what to do,
and this fear fueled her anger. Sadly, her anger prevented her from
helping her son find solutions to his problem. When her son could see no
hope, he ended his life and in doing so left a legacy of pain, guilt, and
sorrow for his mother. While feeling anger as the mother did is normal,
allowing it to cloud her logic, compounded her suffering.
Follow-up, QPR Quick Quote articles will continue addressing
Gatekeepers’ questions and offer more information about how we can
help those we care about. You can learn more about the subject by
visiting the website www.qprinstitute.com and learn more about the
Foundation’s training programs that are tailored for the workplace by
visiting www.fafonline.org or contacting email@example.com.
Upcoming Gatekeeper Trainings
Atlanta Gatekeeper Training
Courtyard Atlanta Airport North, September 27, 2018
QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer and is a research-based
intervention that anyone can learn. The Foundation works with the QPR
Institute to customize this successful intervention for cruise lines,
aviation, human resources professionals and other workplace groups.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at the Foundation if you would
like to know more about how you can learn to be a QPR Gatekeeper in your
organization. You can also learn how you can become a certified trainer
of the QPR Gatekeeper model. Contact the Foundation to discuss your
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