Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is looking to equip members of the agricultural community with the tools to help save the life of a loved one, colleague or neighbor.

ISU extension specialists have begun conducting "Question.Persuade.Refer" (QPR) sessions this month via Zoom. The one-hour QPR training sessions are offered weekly, and take place every Tuesday at noon. Participants must register for the course.

QPR is a suicide prevention program listed on the National Registry of Evidence-based Practices and Policies. The curriculum teaches three steps to help save a life from suicide.

Participants in the QPR sessions are educated on how to be a gatekeeper, which according to the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, can be anyone who is prepared to deal with a potential suicide crisis. Gatekeepers recognize the warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide, know how to offer hope and how to get the proper help for them.

For more information on mental health in agriculture and rural areas, click here.

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Demi Johnson, behavioral health specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said that certified trainers of QPR taught over 700 participants nationwide in 2020.

This is Johnson's first year as a certified QPR trainer. She called the other two teachers, Danielle Day and Dawn Dunnegan, both human sciences specialists for ISU, the "backbone" of the extension's QPR program.

Participants in the QPR sessions are often surprised to hear statistics about suicide in rural communities, said Johnson, and many of them learn that what they had previously heard about suicide prevention is wrong.

"There are still some myths about suicide that we address right away in the training," Johnson said.

One of the biggest myths is that bringing up the topic of suicide to someone you're concerned about may be what puts the idea of suicide into their head.

"That really isn't true," she said.

In fact, a person with thoughts of suicide almost always wants to talk about why suicide has come into their life. When people start to display obvious signs of a mental health struggle, it should be seen as an invitation to ask them directly about their thoughts on suicide.

Johnson said participants in the sessions are taught three simple steps, beginning with the first step of plainly addressing a person who has exhibited warning signs of suicide. She said it's important to be frank with the topic.

"Being really direct about it allows that space for somebody to open up about it, if they are having thoughts about suicide," Johnson said. "They then have a safe space to express that, and an opportunity for some hope."

After the issue of suicide is addressed, the final two steps are to persuade the person to find help because their life is worth it, and then refer them to the right place.

For more information on QPR or to schedule a private group class, contact Johnson at demij@iastate.

If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, there is help available. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text your state’s two letter abbreviation to 741741.