A professor at Marian University in Wisconsin is working to prevent suicide and in so doing claims other types of violence can be reduced, including risk-taking behavior, domestic violence and assault. She also wants to change current methods of treating depression and other psychological issues so suicide is approached not as a symptom, but as a coping mechanism to be substituted by other, better ways of dealing with problems.
Janet McCord, Ph.D. FT, chair of Marian's Thanatology suicide prevention, death and dying, bereavement) program and a Psychological Autopsy Investigator for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Suicide Prevention Psychological Autopsy Project, is a recognized expert attempting to expand the thanatology program to reach more mental health professionals. She points out that 50% of clinicians don't know how to help a suicidal person.
Dr. McCord is on a team of researchers conducting psychological autopsies on all USMC suicides since 2010. Her job will be to interview the relatives and friends of each victim to outline a psychological history that will be studied with forensic/clinical evidence.
"We want to train those who run crisis lines, suicide prevention centers, coalitions on the community level and anyone who comes into regular contact with those at risk to ultimately reach more and more people who are suffering and in pain."
Marian has one of only four accredited master's programs in thanatology in the U.S., though the curriculum is part of a Master of Science whose course work is divided into thanatology and Organizational Leadership and Quality (OLQ).
"Our proposal to the Higher Learning Commission requests permission to de-link thanatology from the OLQ program to build a stand-alone Master of Science in Thanatology,"said Dr. McCord. (The Marian program is the only U.S. program with coursework dedicated to suicide, suicide, prevention and education for the non-clinician.) It also teaches students how to help families in grief, termed "postvention."
An essential element of suicide prevention is gatekeeper training such as Question, Persuade, Refer, or QPR, said Dr. McCord. "We need to reduce the stigma. If you know someone who is not quite right, you shouldn't be afraid to ask about it and direct them to a mental health professional."
In turn, assessment, education and current treatment methods can be improved.
"It is estimated that 41% of those who die by suicide were being treated by a practitioner of some sort at the time of their death," said Dr. McCord who endorses the work of David A. Jobes, Ph.D., of Catholic University of America. His CAMS program, Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality, has been adopted by the Mayo Clinic as a protocol known to reduce trips to emergency rooms.
"CAMS establishes a strong clinician/client alliance where the two address issues collaboratively. A client and clinician sit side by side to fill out a detailed assessment of one's risk factors for suicide. After determining the level of risk, the clinician and client outline a plan. In the meantime, the clinician helps the client identify tools to reduce stress and thwart crisis. We find, ultimately, that most people in crisis have poor methods of coping with their pain."
"We need to enhance one's reason for living and help them learn and adopt coping mechanisms that do not involve ending life," said Dr. McCord. "Essentially, it comes down to: Where do you hurt? How can I help you?"
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