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Iowa employers develop suicide prevention strategies to help those in need

Sara Knox (center) training coordinator at CommUnity, formerly The Crisis Center, listens in as Jackie Schreder (right) with Grant Wood Area Education Agency and Audrey Meyer with Foundation 2 work on a role-playing exercise during Employers’ Council of Iowa’s Emergency Mental Health Intervention for Employers: Be a part of a “Chain of Survival” suicide prevention training session at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom, 1225 S. Gilbert St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Sara Knox (center) training coordinator at CommUnity, formerly The Crisis Center, listens in as Jackie Schreder (right) with Grant Wood Area Education Agency and Audrey Meyer with Foundation 2 work on a role-playing exercise during Employers’ Council of Iowa’s Emergency Mental Health Intervention for Employers: Be a part of a “Chain of Survival” suicide prevention training session at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom, 1225 S. Gilbert St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Not everyone has letters after their name to signify they have formal mental health or counseling credentials.

Even so, everyone in the workplace can learn how to suss out and act on signs a co-worker is considering suicide, a CommUnity Crisis Services representative said this past Tuesday afternoon, at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City.

Twenty-three representatives of Linn and Johnson county employers listened in as Sara Knox, training coordinator with the not-for-profit crisis center, presented on how they could become part of a “chain of survival” and help curb suicide as an epidemic.

Iowa’s suicide death rate in 2017 ranked 31st in the nation, at 15 deaths per 100,000 residents, or 479 reported deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 14 suicide deaths per 100,000 residents across the United States in 2017, or 47,173 reported deaths.

The center also found Iowa’s suicide rate climbed 36.2 percent over the past 17 years, between 1999 and 2016 — the 18th-highest rate increase nationwide.

Increases took place over the same time frame in every state except Nevada.

At the Iowa City event, organized by the Employers’ Council of Iowa, attendees paired up and carried out conversation prompts to practice the QPR, or “Question, Persuade, Refer,” suicide prevention method, on workers who might be displaying warning signs.

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Knox said the signs — ranging from remarks such as “I just can’t go on” to sudden behavioral changes — often result from a person’s fear of talking directly about their suicidal feelings.

“People generally don’t want to die, they want something to change because they feel this unbearable suffering in their lives, this sense of self-hate or hopelessness or feeling like a burden,” Knox said.

“And they want to be proven wrong, but they’re really, really afraid of being judged or rejected.”

Even 20 minutes of “human connection” through conversation can prove lifesaving, Knox said, provided the intervenor directly asks the person they consider at-risk if they are considering suicide, and without implied judgment.

“It’s not about knowing a person’s psychological history, it’s not about knowing the exact right thing to say, it’s just about being willing to be in that moment with that person and letting them share their opinion with you,” Knox said.

After the conversation, she said, the intervenor could to accompany the person in seeking help, such as from a crisis service provider, or commit to checking in on them.

Jodi Wacha, a recruiter with Norway-based Frontier Co-op, said even though mental health has been a focus within her workplace, employees always are trying to learn more.

“As we grow, we don’t want to lose sight of that, so anything we can learn to better serve our employees is very important,” she said.

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Mitch Brenneman, operations supervisor with Coralville-based MediRevv, a health care revenue cycle management company, said he thought the QPR training could come in handy in dealings with clients in addition to co-workers.

MediRevv handles outsourced billing for in- and out-of-state health organization clients, and deals with what Brenneman said are daily calls with “upset, depressed or stressed” patients unable to pay, he said.

“We do sometimes get a lot of threats, ‘I’m just thinking about ending it all,’ ‘You won’t get my money anyway’ — a lot of different things we hear here and there,” he said.

“It’s come to the forefront that we need to better prepare our employees for that.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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