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A requiem for a life worth living

On April 1, a teenage girl stood out on Marion Bridge. As hours passed and traffic backed up, Salem Police spoke with the young girl until she stepped back to safety.

Sheila Brown leads a workshop on new QPR techniques. Photo by Damian Stonequist

Although this story has a happy ending, the Salem-Keizer School District has been plagued by suicides over the past year; they have lost five students, some within weeks of one another, according to KATU.

“[We have] a culture of independence and no open dialogue about suicide,” said Sheila Brown, the Employee Development Coordinator of Chemeketa.

There’s a stigma revolving around the concept of suicide; this stigma lends to the silence of those afflicted, Salem recognizes this crisis as a public one rather than a private one as it has been recognized as before. They have been advertising mental health resources to combat it.

Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR) is one such resource. QPR is part of the Mid-Valley Suicide Prevention Coalition, which is a committee started in 2015 for Polk County residents, community partners and agencies; it recently expanded to cover Marion Country as well. They offer QPR workshops and host meetings to discuss suicide prevention in the community.

Brown is the lead trainer of this new program offered at Chemeketa.

“It’s a suicide prevention training that’s kind of modeled after CPR, where anyone can be trained,” said Brown, “It’s just some basic steps you can take if you encounter someone who’s contemplating suicide, or you feel needs some extra report or help.”

“It’s research-based. It has a lot of years research behind it and people all over the world have been trained to use it,” Brown continued, “I’m well aware that suicide has been on the rise and that Oregon has a higher rate than the national average. But then, I was also asked by someone at Salem Hospital if I would be interested in going through the training to be a QPR trainer, so it’s a combination of all those things and wanting to make a difference.”

Here on campus, the Counseling Center is also an indispensable resource.

“We offer career and personal support, crisis support, and we do some advising as well; sometimes, we teach workshops… And we actually have two areas we focus on: those who are struggling with school and so we talk to them, set up an academic plan and some of us are involved with committees as well,” said Jeffrey Howard, a Counselor at Chemeketa, through his ASL interpreter. “8 to 5 we have an on-call person every day. Some work 8 to 4, and then we also have 11 to 7; they’re kind of waiting for anybody that has an emergency.”

If this crisis is to be addressed, adaptation of thinking is severely needed. Recognition and understanding are the preliminary steps needed toward necessary change. Within this pursuit of insight, recognizing the root of the issue is the first step in combating it.

“Rural areas where there isn’t a lot of access to services… poverty and lack of jobs in those areas; I think sometimes weather, in some areas, can contribute to that. And I think if you talk to a lot of people involved with youth these days, they would definitely say also social media, yeah, and some of the cultural influences youth are experiencing these days,” said Brown.

Outside of weather and social media, other stressors may be present that could lead to suicidal thoughts. According to Brown, a major stressor among students is school.

“I feel like family, politic stuff is an influence, the sensitivity there. Friends, school is another pressure. K-12, the public schools, or some of it, I think, starts in schools, maybe not public, but it just starts in some of the schools. There’s just a lot of reasons out there,” said Howard. “There’s a lot of reasons.”

So, what can the individual do?

When it comes to helping those facing suicidal thoughts, there are a few things that an outside individual such as a friend or family member could do to help.

“Intervention. Immediate intervention, referrals, whether it’s to us, the counselors here, even if someone is just barely contemplating the idea, referral,” said Howard. “People just think, ‘oh, they just talk about it once, no big deal.’ Really, it’s the hard part, getting in there and talking to them. Some people it seems fine, then the next thing, you know, it’s changed.”

QPR Workshops are free to attend, with upcoming events taking place at the Salem Health Community Health Education Center on June 15 and June 20 from 10 a.m. to noon, and anytime enrollment is available at qprinstitute.com.

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