Task force administers suicide prevention training in Schuylkill County

Mar. 17—ORWIGSBURG — In light of rising suicide rates in Schuylkill County in recent years, Grace Coffin believes it is important that people recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis.

To that end, the Suicide Prevention Task Force of Schuylkill County is hosting a series of training sessions, also known as Question, Persuade and Refer, to inform people of the proper procedures in such matters.

Coffin, task force chair, and her co-presenter, task force member Andrea Rosa, visited various organizations over the past week to provide the QPR sessions, including one on Friday morning at Blue Mountain Elementary East.

"Schuylkill County has the fourth highest suicide rate in (Pennsylvania)," said Coffin, noting that the rate has increased over the past three years, which she attributes to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 35 suicides in Schuylkill County in 2022, up from 27 in 2021 and 20 in 2020, according to Coffin.

"Today, more than ever, I think people need to understand that it's OK to ask for help," she said. "It's OK to not be OK, but it's not OK to not ask for help. It's about finding those resources, directing people to those resources."

Rosa identified suicide as the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, resulting in about 46,000 deaths each year.

"Approximately 126 suicides per day," Rosa said. "That's pretty alarming."

Coffin said the most common demographic for suicides in Schuylkill County is the "middle-aged, blue-collar white male," followed by veterans, first responders, healthcare workers and the LGBTQ community.

"(Suicide) doesn't discriminate," she said. "It touches every age, every gender, every social status, things like that. It could basically apply to any of us."

QPR training

QPR is a nationally recognized program conceived by the QPR Institute, an independent organization established in 1999.

"Mental health is health — that is the most basic way to say it," Coffin said. "People need to pay as much attention to their mental health as they do their physical health."

About 50 staff and faculty members from Blue Mountain School District attended Friday's training session. Coffin also administered a session at Blue Mountain Elementary West in the morning and another at Blue Mountain High School.

Christina Butts, a social worker at Blue Mountain Elementary East, said the training provided very "practical" advice on dealing with people in potential suicidal crises.

"It was so informative, and I learned so much," Butts said.

The program trains people to look for clues, signs and behaviors pointing to suicidal activity, as well as how to question, persuade and ultimately refer someone to help.

Coffin said the "Question" process involves identifying people in distress and questioning them in the most effective manner, depending on their situation.

"Persuade" and "Refer" involve persuading people to receive assistance, along with facilitating referrals to the appropriate resources, Coffin said.

To become a certified QPR trainer, people must take what's known as the Gatekeeper course, a training course administered by the QPR Institute.

"It's just about using it in our everyday lives," she said. "And if someone is suicidal, asking direct questions, not being afraid of asking the question — we're trying to remove that stigma of talking about mental health, whether it's depression, anxiety, stress."

Coffin said the QPR training sessions are available upon request from any Schuylkill County agency at no cost. The task force has administered the sessions at various organizations, including school districts, state police barracks and local nonprofits, such as Schuylkill Hope Center for Victims of Domestic Violence.

Looking ahead, the task force will provide a training session at 8:30 a.m. March 30 at the Schuylkill County Chamber of Commerce.

To schedule a QPR training, contact Coffin at gcoffin@co.schuylkill.pa.us.

Contact the writer: hlee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6085