The United States is in the midst of a battle with suicide.

In 2021, according to the CDC, 12.3 million Americans had serious thoughts of suicide. Three and a half million American adults made plans, 1.7 million attempted and 48.2 thousand died by suicide.

With these startling numbers, support is needed for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.

According to the Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline, “If you are struggling with suicide, a mental or emotional problem, having trouble with drugs or alcohol or having family or relationship problems — reach out. Someone is always here for you on the other end of the line.”

Alongside these resources, there is a need for immediate support. Thankfully, training is available for individuals who desire to offer that support.

As the above statistics display, there is roughly a 3.5:1 ratio of individuals who had serious thoughts about taking their own life and individuals who made a plan to do so. Similarly, less than half of those plans were ever attempted.

A reason why these numbers decreased is because of the efforts of trained professionals who were able to support the struggling individual. They were able to assist the struggling individual access the trained professionals and resources available to those in need.

Those individuals who learn to provide support for people who are struggling are known as “gatekeepers.” A gatekeeper is one who can provide initial support for individuals who are struggling with a mental health illness and can help them reach the trained support that they need.

“When someone is in a crisis, and they’re not in immediate relation to help, there is a gap between the crisis they are in and the availability or the proximity of help,” said Andra Hansen, a certified QPR trainer and volunteer at the Center for HOPE.

In crises, gatekeepers act as a bridge that can span the gap between the crisis and the necessary help. Hansen advised it is important for gatekeepers to realize that they are not counselors. It is not the gatekeeper’s role to be the long-term help for a struggling individual. Rather, they are intended to play a role in helping an individual reach the long-term trained help that is needed.

With this, people need to learn how to be a gatekeeper. One of the ways that people can become effective gatekeepers is to become QPR certified.

“Just as people trained in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help, according to the QPR Institute website.

QPR stands for “Question, Persuade and Refer.” These three steps can be vital tools in helping save a person’s life.

Question

The question portion involves asking a person about suicide. This is an important step in helping to save the life of someone who may be struggling. Questions must be asked in a proper setting and in a comforting and loving manner, but it is okay to ask someone how they are doing. If you realize or suspect that someone may be considering taking their own life, ask them about it. Asking about it in the proper manner is the best way to find out if someone needs help.

“People who are at risk, they are so heavily burdened by that emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, whatever that may be, that it is unrealistic to expect them to initiate those hard conversations,” Hansen said. “To expect them to initiate it is to kind of misunderstand the psychological (or) emotional place where that person is.”

When trying to identify if someone may be struggling with thoughts of suicide, it is important to understand the risk factors that could lead to those thoughts and warning signs of someone who may be having those thoughts. The CDC offers a list of some of the risk factors that could lead to an individual contemplating suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health has also given a list of some of the warning signs that a person may be considering suicide.

“I think, we are almost certainly going to be having people in our lives or in our sphere of influence, who are at risk,” Hansen said. “And, they are much more likely to move through that risk in a constructive, life-affirming way if they are not alone.”

Persuasion

At this point, a gatekeeper’s role is to attempt to persuade a struggling individual to accept the help they need. This is not the time to shame or make the individual feel guilty for what they are experiencing. In this step, the gatekeeper needs to encourage the individual to be willing to accept the help they need.

“(The gatekeeper’s) goal is to get them in the hands of people who can either be a more permanent part of lending support,” Hansen said.

Refer

The final step is to refer. The role of the gatekeeper is to get the individual in the hands of the person who can provide long-term support and help. To do this, the gatekeeper refers them to that help.

There are resources readily available to help those struggling. Help can be given by calling the 988-crisis hotline. The BYU–Idaho Counseling Center is also an available resource to provide help.

Eastern Idaho also has the Behavioral Health Crisis Center of Eastern Idaho, which is located in Idaho Falls. Additional resources are available.

For individuals who wish to be a gatekeeper but have not been QPR certified, Hansen offered four pieces of advice.

First, she illustrated the importance of listening to affirm the value of the person and not judge them.

“Just hear them and show that you value them by being with them or by respecting them,” Hansen said.

Second, individuals need to be aware of the available resources. Hansen said that the 988-crisis hotline is a very big resource that can help someone when they are acting as a gatekeeper.

Third, do not be a gatekeeper alone.

“Do not get into a situation where you are frequently or continuously interacting with a person who is struggling and take it on as your own responsibility,” Hansen said.

Fourth, do not take the blame if something uncontrollable happens.

“If you were in a situation that did turn out to be a really unfortunate outcome, that would not be your fault, so do not assign self-blame,” Hansen said.

If someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts, encourage them to reach out for help. Call the 988-crisis hotline to speak with a trained professional. Appointments can also be scheduled with the BYU–I Counseling Center. In the event of an emergency, call 911.