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Suicide: another pandemic
Posted On: April 07, 2021

By Mary Hookham for WCO

The rate of death by suicide increases every year in the farming community, a rate that could be reduced if there was more hope. People can offer that hope to one another through positive, kind actions, and by becoming trained in the Question, Persuade and Refer concept.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Jeff Ditzenberger, a certified QPR trainer. “Giving someone in trouble your time and attention might make all the difference and restore hope.”

Ditzenberger hosted a QPR training session for WCO in a virtual format in mid-March. The concept is designed to teach people how to make a positive difference in the lives of people they know. Learning what to do at the time it needs to be done can save lives.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an increase in use of the national suicide hotline by 892 percent. Ditzenberger’s non-profit, T.U.G.S., has experienced an increase in mental health call volumes of 415 percent. For every one COVID-19-related death, there have been 324 suicides or overdoses.

“We have another pandemic going on that nobody is talking about, and it’s one that I’m very, very passionate about,” Ditzenberger said.

In many cases, people who take their own lives are suffering from an acute stress situation, a major relationship conflict or a treatable brain disorder, according to Dr. Paul Quinnett in a video shown during the training session.

“This type of training is definitely important in not only the farming community, but in our world as a whole,” said Megan Hoff, a WCO member with her husband, Allen. “Even before COVID, we were in a mental health crisis. There isn’t enough resources, so we have to help each other in any way we can, even if it’s just someone to be there to listen.”

Listening is another crucial step in preventing suicides. When someone is having thoughts of hurting or killing himself or herself, listening and providing your full attention can make a big difference, Ditzenberger said. 

“Just simply being there to listen may save a life,” he said.

Hoff feels she and her husband can put this training to good use with their employees as those employees handle potentially tough situations in their personal lives. She appreciated Ditzenberger sprinkling in some of his own personal experiences and struggles throughout the training, she said. This made the session more personal and relatable.

“The last few years have been tough for our customers, so the training gives us that knowledge to really listen when they talk about how things are going,” Hoff said. “We’ve had a lot of our customers for years, so we know their mannerisms and can be more aware if something seems off.”

Questioning someone to find out if something is off can consist of a simple conversation that appears to be casual, Ditzenberger said. There are almost always direct and indirect verbal clues when someone is contemplating hurting or killing themselves. 

“Remember that how you ask the question is less important than that you ask,” he said. “The fact that we’re asking the question is the most important part, so if you can’t ask this question, find someone who can. It’s not harsh, it’s showing you care.”

The persuade portion of the concept involves active, thoughtful listening. Ditzenberger recommends planting a seed of hope for someone who may otherwise be hopeless. 

“The impact of words on a daily basis is one of the easiest ways to make people feel better,” he said.

WCO President Ray Liska understands that getting a conversation started in order to provide hope and positivity can be tough. Sharing his training with his employees will help that flow of dialogue continue constantly, he said.

“I saw a change today in the way I approach depression and suicide,” Liska said. “QPR training provides talking points and compassion to help open up the conversation, whether it’s with someone you’ve known for years, or someone you just met. It also helps identify key indicators that someone may be struggling and how to engage with them.”

People in suicidal situations can be referred to professional counselors for help. But that doesn’t mean the efforts of coworkers, bosses, family members and friends trained in QPR are done. It takes a network of supportive, well-trained people to save each life.

“Jeff’s program can be beneficial to businesses and individuals of all walks of life, and I would highly recommend him and his approach to mental health awareness,” Liska said.


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