MADISON, Wis. - Mike Olmsted works a lot with service members, and as an Army veteran himself, he understands what makes coming back to civilian life a challenge.
“The military's an institution and the support is almost invisible. You're in a platoon of 90 people, you have support. It's a system,” Olmsted said.
Leaving that system, Olmsted says, can make a person feel lonely and lost.
“There are a lot of things that you take for granted and those pressures will build up,” Olmsted said.
Olmsted says he sees people reaching out for help on social media every day but has struggled to respond to that appropriately.
“More people need to know how to be aware of the signs, if you will, and then they can help veterans or anyone just talk more about it,” Olmsted said.
That’s what brought Olmsted to a QPR training. QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer. The sessions are held free of cost, thanks to Safe Communities. Former Madison police Officer Jean Papalia leads the training. In her time in law enforcement, she responded to a number of suicidal subjects and saw how trauma affected her colleagues. She points out in her QPR training that the largest population dying by suicide is white, working-age men.
“When you lose hope, you lose any kind of resilience or abilities to go through difficulties,” Papalia told the class.
The training helps participants pick up on behaviors of suicidal individuals, ask upfront questions about a person’s intention to kill themselves, and point those people toward resources.
QPR was one of the tactics brought up to the Speaker’s Task Force on Suicide Prevention in Eau Clare on Monday. The group focused on the needs of law enforcement and veterans, which have some of the highest suicide rates.
Capt. Erin Dunahay works at Jackson Correctional Institution and is one of many leaders in the prison system implementing mandatory QPR trainings for her employees. She also leads QPR training for the general public.
“It's very simple. It's not just geared toward corrections. It's basically giving people hope, and hope is what sustains life,” Dunahay said.
Safe Communities offers free QPR trainings that are open to the public. The next one happens in October, but if you are interested in holding one at your workplace, contact the organization.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, here are some resources available to help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Wisconsin HOPELINE - Text 741741
NAMI Information Line - 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
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