Marshall QPR training works to end stigma surrounding suicide


Blake Newhouse

Katelyn Fowler, grant coordinator for MU-SPEAC, talks to students about suicide statistics in West Virginia.

Destigmatizing the conversation surrounding suicide is the first step to reducing it, a Marshall University social worker told students Monday at Drinko Library.
“If we don’t ask the question, we can’t have the conversation,” said Katelyn Fowler, social worker and grant coordinator for MU-SPEAC, Marshall University’s Suicide Prevention Education Across Campus. “If we don’t have the conversation, then we can’t get people help.”
The conversation was a part of Marshall’s suicide prevention training, which utilizes the QPR technique, Question, Persuade, Refer, of recognizing warning signs of suicide and offering help to those who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
In 2017, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and in West Virginia it was the eighth leading cause of death, more than five times the amount of people who died in alcohol related motor vehicle accidents, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Fowler said the topic of suicide prevention affects us all, which is even more of a reason to learn about how to help someone.
“In a state where suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, it is really all our business to get involved in suicide prevention,” Fowler said. “Why is it important that you come to a QPR for an hour and listen to me talk? Because one person who dies by suicide is too many.”
Fowler talked about her personal experience with confronting someone about self-harm and how it inspired her to work in the field of suicide prevention.
“People don’t typically come into this field without something that drives them,” Fowler said. “So, if it’s going to be helpful, we always try to share our stories when appropriate.”
Fowler’s best friend had shown warning signs of self-harm before entering into college, but Fowler said she was unaware of the extent of her friend’s issues until one night in college when her friend was dropped off at their college dorm, lying unconscious on the floor.
Fowler said her best friend was struggling with diabulimia, an eating disorder where type-1 diabetics misuse their insulin to lose weight, which can result in death.
The parents of Fowler’s best friend asked that she not tell anyone about the struggles their daughter was facing, a request Fowler said she followed until the illness worsened.
“We couldn’t keep her safe anymore. It got to the point where things were getting really bad, so we went to tell someone that we trusted at the school,” Fowler said. “They called her family in, and she got sent to treatment in Arizona. She is now married, a nutritionist with degrees doing very well, but hasn’t spoken to me since the day I told the people at the university.”
Some people may view this situation as somber, but Fowler said she has a different perspective about her experience.
“She can be mad at me, but she’s here,” Fowler said. “She is here to experience all of those things in her life. I would much rather her be here and be upset with me than her not be here at all.”
In order to change how people think of suicide, Fowler said suicide prevention organizations throughout the country are trying to change the way we discuss suicide.
“We’re encouraging people to shift their language and the way they talk about suicide. Research science shows that how we speak about something dictates the way we behave around that issue,” Fowler said. “So, saying ‘committed suicide,’ it gives off a negative connotation. We often use the word commit when we are talking about sin, murder, theft, so it kind of criminalizes the act in and of itself. It can be very hard for people who are suicide loss survivors, to hear that about the person they love. So, we use words like ‘completed suicide’ or ‘died of suicide’ so it does not have a positive or negative connotation, it’s just neutral.”
The conversation also included students and faculty members that had lost a loved one to suicide, some saying that they wish to understand what they could do in the future to prevent suicide from happening again.
Other students, such as Shelby McKeand, a second-year graduate student majoring in school counseling, said she came to the event to learn more about what she can do to help as she enters into the workforce.
“The suicide rate goes up every single day,” McKeand said. “People don’t always see the warning signs because they aren’t really aware of them, so hopefully this gets the word out there and will help prevent suicide in the future.”
Fowler said that these conversations are vital to the cause and she hopes that sharing her story with others will encourage them to speak up.
“These kinds of conversations are going to change the stigma around mental health issues, I really and truly believe that,” Fowler said. “I know that it sounds so cliche, but I truly do believe it, and it’s why I am so passionate about this. So, if you’re worried or concerned about talking to someone or about making the call for more support, I hope you’ll just remember my story. Always be safe rather than sorry.”
Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected]