Stop , Drop, & Roll

A parallel application to Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) trainings for suicide

Remember that pithy 3-Step process for putting out a fire: Stop, Drop & Roll?  Three easy steps to remember, and so easy to implement that anyone can do it!  Do you remember the first time that you learned the concept?  Was it in the First Grade?  Kindergarten?  Pre-school?  Or even before that?  Did the person teaching you seem nervous discussing fire safety or teaching the 3-step method to put the fire out?  I doubt it.  When they taught it, did they talk about prevention or who/what caused the fire?  Unlikely.

My first recollection of learning this technique was when I was about 4 years old.  I actually remember practicing the 3-Step process at school in 1st Grade with my teacher, Mrs. Cramer.  She was this petite, soft-spoken, gentle woman who was about as intimidating as my favorite binky or blanket.  I remember her talking about what we needed to do if there was a fire.  She had us practice stopping in our tracks, dropping down to the floor, and rolling around to put the fire out.  She managed to get us to do this over and over again until it stuck in our brains—this is what to do in case of fire.  There were never any words of punishment, shame or blame about how the fire started or who was responsible.  Nor were there stern cautionary tales of children who weren’t paying attention when she explained fire safety and prevention. For even though we had been taught about ways to prevent a fire on other days, today we just learned to Stop, Drop, & Roll.  That was the task at hand.

These very same principles apply when dealing with any sort of mental health, substance abuse or suicide crisis situation.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t focus on prevention.  Prevention and identification of early warning signs are fundamentally important and help prevent crises from happening.  Another topic for another day.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t focus on causation—understanding causal factors can help us address treatment in the present as well as circumvent problems in the future. I’m just saying that when an individual is in crisis, we need to focus on the problem at hand:  Managing the crisis, the equivalent of Stop, Drop, & Roll.

There are many useful tools out there to help families learn about approaching loved ones and themselves during such times of crisis.  This month being Suicide Awareness Month, I’d like to highlight one such tool:  QPR:  Question, Persuade, Refer.  This is a training that helps individuals address suicide prior to and/or during the crisis, a parallel to the aforementioned Stop, Drop, & Roll.   When we learn to Question¸ we are taught to Stop avoiding the issue and take a moment to ask specific things of yourself or a loved one.  During this period of inquiry, we can focus on the issue at hand and pay attention to the question burning in our minds:  Are you suicidal or thinking about hurting yourself?  When we learn to Persuade, we are taught to Drop what we are doing so that the person of concern has our full attention.  We learn techniques to help the individual Drop that intention of self-harm for long enough to consider another option.  And when we Refer, we are learning to Roll with whatever resistance we are encountering so that resources for help can be brought to the person in crisis…thus extinguishing the immediate threat of suicide.

I encourage each reader to learn more about or receive training in the QPR techniques.  CAHM, as a dedicated family advocate, can help you coordinate trainings in the community, or you may go to the Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP) website for more information at:  http://www.sdchip.org/trainings.aspx .  Ultimately we would like everyone to be as familiar and comfortable with Question, Persuade, Refer techniques as they are with Stop, Drop & Roll.  Addressing suicide should become as much a part of our elementary education as fire prevention.

by Susan Writer, Ph.D.