BY LINDSEY WOOD – STAFF WRITER
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S. During this time of heightened awareness of the tragedy that is suicide, American mental health advocates hope to equip laymen with the necessary psychological information to spot warning signs in their family members, friends, and co-workers—and potentially save lives.
Here at Centre College, the counseling staff honors Suicide Prevention Month by offering several events to become better informed. This year, counselor Michael Spears led a training for students interested in understanding how to prevent suicide, and last week, he and other counseling staff members worked an informational table for students. However, the counselor’s office is not the only place on campus to find people who wish to raise awareness this month; in fact, one man took to the stage to shed light on the issue. On September 7, Padraic Lillis, Centre’s 2018 Visiting Humana Scholar, performed Hope You Get To Eleven or What Are We Going To Do About Sallie, a play centered on suicide and designed to open dialogue on the subject.
Following the well-received performance, Spears and Lillis briefly broached the subject of suicide with the audience. Spears elaborated on the resources available to Centre students. When later asked about what he took away from the play, Spears said that the central message appeared to be: “People do care; you aren’t a burden.” This realization is sometimes hard to grasp for those in the throes of suicidal thoughts, and even the star of this one-man show can admit it is not always easy to reach out to others in one’s darkest moments.
Lillis spoke candidly about his experience with suicide both in his professional life and within himself. He discussed his shock and grief at the sudden suicide of a seemingly confident, happy student with whom he was working on a play. As for himself, CentreNews reports he confided, “I also have a relationship with the issue, having battled with depression at various times in my life. I don’t talk about it, and I don’t think people in my life know I battle with it. I, like that student, appear as if everything is okay.” However, Lillis knows that silence can be deadly in the most literal sense. To this end, he explains, “The aspiration of the show is to inspire conversation on the topic of suicide; to invite people to share their relationship with the issue and/or have compassion for people that have a relationship with suicide.”
Conversations about suicide and compassion for those suffering are especially relevant on college campuses, as suicide is unfortunately the second-leading cause of death among young adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alarmingly, the 2016 National College Health Assessment II reveals that “9.8% of college students indicated that they seriously contemplated suicide in the past year, and 1.5% reported a suicide attempt in the past year.” Furthermore, overall rates of suicide ideation, plans, and attempts are far greater among college-age individuals than older adults. While Centre is certainly not immune to this trend, many are willing to assist students who may be struggling.
Spears is one of these people. A seasoned mental health counselor in his fourth year at the college, he knows how to address these issues and is more than willing to help members of the Centre community increase their capacity to prevent suicide. One of the most important resources he offers is QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training. The program is designed to help participants recognize the various signs and clues that someone may be contemplating suicide, how to approach the subject with such a person, how to persuade this person not to act on the desire to take his or her own life, and finally, how to refer this person to a “competent, local mental health professional.” The QPR booklet articulates these points in much greater detail, but the training itself–which is evidence-based and widely used–provides an even more thorough and nuanced understanding of the issue and how to effectively combat it. Spears insists this training is available to anyone who would like to participate so long as they form a group of five or more. It being Suicide Prevention Month, now is the perfect time to assemble a group of friends or classmates to undergo the hour and a half-long training. Spears calls all Centre students to action, urging, “Any attempt at helping someone out is worth it.”
Finally, if you or anyone you know may be at-risk for suicide, please, by all means, know that help is available. Counseling services at Parsons Medical Center are available on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and on Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to noon. For afterhours counseling, call DPS at 246-4357 to access an on-call counselor. If counselors are not available, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).