QPR training, a nationally recognized suicide prevention program, is now available to all students, faculty, and staff at Washington University in St. Louis.
Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Wellness, and Arie Baker, Director of Health and Wellness Promotion at Habif Health and Wellness Center, compare QPR to CPR – an intervention of life-saving emergency. QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer – the key steps to recognizing and responding to signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
“We would like the entire campus to engage in this process so they have the tools for when — not if they come across someone in crisis,” Dougher said. “Student affairs alone cannot solve the student mental health crisis. WashU, on the other hand, has a chance.
Kognito, another evidence-based suicide prevention program, also remains available to faculty, staff, and students. Kognito uses animated simulations to help users conduct effective discussions with struggling students. Access both programs on Mental health services.
Here, Dougher and Baker share more about QPR training and how it supports their larger goals to improve on-campus wellness.
Not everyone feels comfortable bringing up the subject of suicide. Why is the Q (questioning) in QPR so important?
Baker: According to a myth, if you talk about suicide or ask someone if they are thinking about suicide, you will give them the idea. We know that is not true. It actually brings a sense of relief to someone in crisis because it means someone actually sees their pain and hurt. Asking a question can help save lives. The next step is to help someone connect, whether it’s accompanying them to Habif or connecting them with Timely care. We know that rates drop if someone in crisis is connected to care.
Mental health resources are limited across the country. Is help readily available on campus?
Baker: Absolutely. There is an urgent care counselor on staff at Habif who is available five days a week. We also have same day or next day appointments for students who need a mental health consultation. Timely care is always an option. Simply put, if a student is in crisis, we will find a way.
Dough : Additionally, we are working to make Mental health services more accessible. We are putting in place a system that allows students to check if there are appointments available on the same day. We also have a resource available called thriving campus. This is a database of community therapists who have been screened and are available to treat students. In addition, mental health services hold workshops and process groups that students engage in for a set number of weeks. We know that for many issues, especially mainstream issues like depression and anxiety, group therapy is the treatment of choice and more effective than individual therapy. Our goal is to continually expand these group options.
What is the difference between QPR training and Kognito?
Dough : They have slightly different content and are presented in different ways. Kognito focuses on general mental health symptoms, while QPR is more focused on suicide prevention. But both are really good at helping users identify mental health symptoms and suicidal tendencies. I guess we’ll find that some populations will prefer to engage with an avatar-based program like Kognito. QPR training is available in person or online. We are available and willing to conduct these trainings for groups of students, departments, offices and other groups in person.
Are you asking faculty to take on the role of therapist?
Dough : We know from talking to faculty and staff that they want to know how they can help. An administrator called me after meeting someone who was having a manic episode. She was blown away and realized she needed tools. We want to fill this need. We don’t ask people to be therapists. But knowing how to empathize with someone and validate their experience goes a long way.
What are your broader goals for campus wellness?
Dough : We are literally trying to change the culture on campus. It won’t be easy. It requires students, teachers and even parents to change their way of thinking. Our students are a very bright, high-achieving group who sometimes mistakenly believe that doing more will lead to doing better. And so they sacrifice sleep, exercise, and other things in the service of trying to be a better performer. And what we know from every bit of data is that in fact, the more consistent you are with positive health behaviors, the better your grades and everything will be.
Baker: The Provost and Student Affairs Division are asking each school to identify a Wellness Ambassador to work together on setting priorities and identifying attainable goals. Please note that much of this work is already in progress. The Center for Teaching and Learning has held many workshops on working with distressed students. We have also worked with the center to produce “Promoting Student Well-Being in Learning Environments: A Guide for Instructors.”
Dough : There is a phrase in health promotion work: “Make the best choice the easiest choice”. Maybe with professors, that means setting a Canvas deadline for an assignment at 9 p.m. instead of midnight so students get more sleep. This small change costs the teachers nothing; nor is it at odds with our academic goals – quite the contrary, in fact. Our goal is to work with University of Washington partners to find ways to support our students so they can grow and thrive.