COLORADO SPRINGS. A person thinking of committing suicide is often deeply depressed and unable to seek help by themselves. The actions of a concerned friend can save their life, said Angel McGrady to the Tapping into Theology gathering Jan. 8 at the Pikes Peak Brewing Company in Monument. McGrady also spoke on how to administer the “QPR” method of assistance to a person in danger of suicide.
“Suicide is nothing new,” McGrady told the audience. “There is the story of a man who was born in 1809. When he was two years old, his infant brother died. When he was nine years old, his mother and his aunt died, and he was raised by his older sister. When he was 19, that older sister died. When he was 26, his best friend died. At age 31, he fell into a very severe depressed state. He once said this about himself, ‘I am the most miserable man living. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or get better.’”
“He got better by the help of his friends,” McGrady said. “His friends did things like keeping weapons away from him —guns, knives, razors. They knew that if those were in his hands, he would probably take his life. He had one friend who spent a lot of time with him, stayed with him constantly, listened to him, didn’t judge him, let him talk, and planted seeds of hope. His name was Joshua Speed. Most people don’t know of him, but we do know the name of the man whose life he saved by just being there — Abraham Lincoln. If we plant these seeds of hope and get people help, they are going to heal. He had lots of struggles after that, like we do, but he was never suicidal again. His friends weren’t counselors or therapists, they were just his friends, and that’s what we can do.”
QPR stands for “Question, Persuade, and Refer.” To “question” means to question a person about suicidal thoughts. McGrady emphasized that it was necessary to ask the person explicitly if they were considering suicide, and not to be afraid that the question itself would cause the person to commit suicide. A questioner might simply ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?”
“Persuade” means to convince the person to get help. People in severe emotional pain are unlikely to seek help by themselves. “Refer” means to connect the person with someone who can help. According McGrady, this can be making an appointment with a counselor and taking the person there, taking someone to the emergency room, or calling the police to check on a person, among other things. Primarily it involves following up to be certain the person of concern is placed in contact with someone who can help.
McGrady, a catechist and Respect Life coordinator at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish, is married to Deacon Mike McGrady. An Air Force veteran with master’s degrees in business administration and psychology, she works as a family advocacy specialist at Fort Carson. Recently she introduced suicide intervention/prevention skills to her parish, educating parishioners on how to help those who are struggling. She explained that it is possible for anyone to come to the aid of someone considering suicide. She compared the use of the QPR method to the well-known CPR method, which has often been used to save the lives of people suffering from cardiac arrest.
In 2017, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. In Colorado, it was the 7th leading cause of death, and it was the second leading cause of death in Colorado for people ages 15 to 44. It is estimated that the cost of each suicide is $1.2 million.
“This is one of those Respect Life topics that no one ever talks about,” said McGrady. There is a stigma around suicide which prevents people from expressing suicidal thoughts and friends from asking questions and getting help for a person in trouble, she said.
McGrady said that she brought the program to St. Gabriel Parish when Father Kirk Slattery wanted something more for the Respect Life ministry.
“I said we should talk about this. We have youth, we have young adults, we have elderly, we have tons of individuals who are hurting — who are suicidal — and no one ever talks about it.” They started the program with the catechists, then the staff, and then moved to the youth.
“There are more people out there who can help other people. It does work,” McGrady said. “Our youth are all over it. They come to the deacons or they come to a catechist and say, ‘I’m worried about this person’ — signs we may not ever see as adults. We don’t have to have degrees. We don’t have to have any of that. We can play the role.”
For more information about the QPR method, access www.qprinstitute.com. To seek help for a person in danger of suicide, contact a mental health professional, call the police, or visit the nearest emergency room.
(Editor's Note: See https://www.petertherock.org/tapping-into-theology.html for audio recording of this talk.)