Isolation, uncertainty and lack of access to resources during the pandemic exacerbated an upward trend in the number of deaths by suicide, which has impacted the lives of many across the state.
Alaska is ranked third in the country for its high suicide rates, with rural communities reaching up to four times the national average in suicide deaths. Question, Persuade and Refer, an internationally recognized suicide prevention program, is a one- to two-hour training that is easy to learn. With a 20-year history record, research shows that as QPR is implemented, suicide rates decrease.
Arctic Adventist Church in Utqiagvik has been praying about how it can proactively prevent suicides in Alaska communities. With the support of Arctic Mission Adventure, local church members have been trained as QPR instructors.
The program teaches interested participants the basic ways to recognize the risks of a potential suicide crisis and intervene to save lives. It encourages community engagement, including church attendance, as part of a comprehensive mental health safety net for people at risk of suicide. QPR compliments the Adventist lifestyle values and emphasis on mental, spiritual and physical health.
Since spring 2022, a total of 162 people from four villages, including AAC members, pastors and AMA workers, have received training. Through partnership with Native corporations, AAC has been invited to conduct additional QPR training in the remaining four North Slope Borough villages.
Offered to community members and hosted in local schools, attendance has exceeded expectations as nearly all school staff, police officers, firefighters/first responders, clinic personnel and other interested parties attend. AAC hopes to follow up with a youth version of QPR to address the needs of young people. Additional plans include developing a grief recovery support group that is supportive to Native culture.
Two facilitators lead each training to ensure connection with attendees, especially those impacted by the emotional content. The topic can be overwhelming, so instructors take the time to listen to their pain, offering hope and a path to healing. Facilitators, and others, have prevented several suicide attempts using QPR.
Saving lives is what we do when we share the love of God. Jer. 29:11 says, “'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” This is the message shared through QPR.