by J. E. Helm
The Catholic Church is the visible means by which we experience God’s loving care of us. This charity may be felt when those in need receive food, clothing, or medical care. It sometimes also happens that this concern focuses on those who, tragically, attempt to take their own lives.
Thanks to training from the Cabrini Wellness Ministry, a joint suicide prevention program of Catholic Charities and the Catholic Pastoral Center, more than 800 people in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City have been trained to respond to those contemplating suicide.
The three-pronged program of the Cabrini Wellness Ministry begins with a one-hour “Question, Persuade and Refer” training session that prepares educators, parents, clergy and ministry leaders to be able to approach someone who might be suicidal.
Participants in small classes of about 30 learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to offer hope and how to get help from local service providers.
Aimee Ryan, director of social work with Catholic Charities and one of the QPR trainers, says she realizes that it is hard to ask someone, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
“But if you’re willing to say those words and if you’re willing to hear the answer, then you’ve opened that door,” she says.
Amy Shipman, LPC, a therapist with Saint Joseph’s Family Counseling Center, is also a trainer for the QPR program. She notes that, while talking to someone about suicide is not the easiest thing to do, it is vital.
“You have to realize that saving their life is more important than your being uncomfortable,” says Shipman.
Results of the training have been immediate. Pedro Moreno, archdiocesan director of Hispanic Ministry, attended a QPR training session. Immediately after the class, Moreno was approached by a young man with a question who then expressed his struggle with suicide. Moreno was able to help, thanks to the training he had just received.
“Some people just need someone to listen. When you give your time in an act of love, hope is born of that love,” Moreno observes.
Shipman credits Archbishop Coakley for the success of the program, saying that “he has been key” in its development. Archbishop Coakley mandated QPR training for parish and school staffs, and he himself “participated in the priests’ training program,” says Shipman.
Ryan and Shipman recently attended a suicide prevention conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, and they presented the QPR program. It was very well received, and “a variety of professional counselors were intrigued with how to take it back to their own faith community,” according to Becky Van Pool, director of parish outreach at Catholic Charities..
A second component of the suicide prevention program of the Cabrini Wellness Ministry is the Lifelines Prevention Program. This is a more intensive training program for educators that will include a parent component and will ultimately incorporate actual classroom sessions for students. Selected schools and parishes will launch the program this fall.
The third part of the Cabrini Wellness Ministry plan involves the establishment of protocols for use in the event of critical incidents.
All aspects of the suicide prevention program will eventually be extended throughout the archdiocese. QPR training has already been conducted in the Lawton and Enid areas, and Saint Joseph’s Family Counseling Center services are offered in several rural communities.
Van Pool explains that the Cabrini Ministry was founded in response to what was recognized as the serious problem of suicide in the archdiocese, particularly among young people. The Centers for Disease Control report that “For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.”
The staff of Saint Joseph’s Family Counseling Center had sometimes been called upon to assist students following the death of a classmate who committed suicide. It was felt that something should be done to raise awareness of the issue and to aid in suicide prevention.
“We needed to be on the front end, teaching prevention skills,” says Van Pool. “Church should be the first place we go when we need help, not the last place.”
For more information or to express concern that a family member or friend might be considering suicide, please contact either Aimee Ryan or Amy Shipman at (405) 524-0969 or toll free at 1 (800) 375-8514.
J.E. Helm is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic and an adjunct professor of English at several area colleges.