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Buzz Around Town -Chris Swan
Chris Swan
Today I wish I could share an editorial about how much fun we had with three of our grandkids visiting over the weekend. Because we did. Or how beautiful the Sunday sunset was after days and days of clouds and rain. Because it was. Or how amazing our downtown looks with the festive fall decorations. Because it is. All these things are good and wonderful, but this past weekend was darkened with a funeral service for a young man who will never meet his grandkids, enjoy the warm fall glow of an October night sky or cruise down Lincoln Avenue again.
    Talking about death is uncomfortable, but death in the context of suicide leaves us all clamoring for answers, rehearsing regrets and staggering through a maze of tumbling emotions. The direction this editorial is taking may turn some of you to a different column to read. I understand. Believe me I’d rather be telling you about the individualistic quirks of how preschoolers eat pancakes. I apologize that the topic of suicide is uncomfortable. But please stay tuned. We are ALL in a position to reach out to someone who may be suffering silently. Just when and where that situation will occur is likely closer than you may think.
    No one wants to address it but ignoring isn’t the solution. Mental and emotional health crises can lead to irrational behaviors. There is rarely a straightforward answer in dealing with these crises, and most of us are not trained professionals when it comes to mental health. However, what we can do is recognize some symptoms and ask the right questions.
    Three years ago, the beloved actor Robin Williams passed away unexpectedly from suicide. Shock waves rippled across the country as we all wrestled with how one of the funniest and successful actors in Hollywood could take such drastic action. His death was a tragedy and we deeply felt the loss of the funny man who entered our own homes via TV and movies and made us smile and laugh. It just didn’t make sense.
    I am not a mental health professional. My health profession advice-giving leans toward “eat more veggies” and “exercise more,” which truthfully can’t hurt anyone. However, I write this editorial to shine awareness and advocate for practical action steps recommended by mental health professionals that do.
    Most everyone knows what CPR stands for—Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. But do you know what QPR stands for? QPR is a technique that can save lives as well and stands for “Question, Persuade, Refer.” Instead of cardiovascular health, QPR identifies specific steps for helping an individual who may be suicidal.
    QPR as a technique was developed in 1999 in the state of Washington to give individuals a tool to help redirect someone who is having suicidal thoughts. The QPR institute states their mission is: “To save lives and reduce suicidal behaviors by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. We believe that quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know”.
    This online training is available to anyone. It is an hour of your time and costs only $30. It does not make you a mental health professional, but it may give you tools to ask the right questions, persuade a change in thought pattern or refer to a professional who can help.
    Just like CPR, any or all these interventions can be a life saver. In any medical emergency the sooner a 911 call is made the chances for better outcome improve dramatically. The same goes for initiating QPR. Hindsight is always 20/20, and survivors of suicide are often left to sort through their memories for SOS clues they may have missed. A training in QPR gives the tools to recognize behaviors or symptoms before it is too late.
    This past weeks’ scenario is personal to me, not only because I knew this compassionate, artistic and musically talented young man, but because I spent 20 years of my life advocating for a family member who also struggled with unrelenting depression and suicidal thoughts. That person was my dad.
    Although attitudes are slowly changing, there continues to be a stigma about mental and emotional health. It’s time to shun the shame. Treating mental health is as important as treating cancer, setting a broken bone or removing a ruptured appendix. If left untreated, any of these physical problems will lead to serious or grave outcomes. It’s time to recognize mental health in the same way we approach other physical health challenges.
    To the families and friends of loved ones who are struggling with serious depression and don’t know what to do. Keep reaching out. Text. Call. Be present. Acknowledge pain. Give hugs. Get trained in QPR. If you don’t know what else to do call a family physician, reach out to clergy or a trained counselor. There is help and there is hope.

    Local and National Resources:, Suicide Hot line: 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOPELINE” to 741741,  Unified Counseling Lancaster: (608) 723-7666. Local clergy. School counselors. Local hospitals and health care providers.