QPR: police suicide prevention

QPR: police suicide prevention – questioning, persuading and referring

Paul Quinnett

A 5-year veteran uniformed police officer, in acute distress about his wife divorcing him, hints to his shift supervisor, “Forget that transfer I asked for; I’ve decided to work things out permanently.”

The shift supervisor takes him aside and asks, “What’s the matter? Is something going on in your personal life?”

After this inquiry, the officer announces his wife is leaving him, describes his sense of devastation, and laments his inability to reverse her decision. The supervisor says, “I’m worried about you and concerned for your safety. Have you had any thoughts about killing yourself?”

The officer nods.

“Then I want you to see a professional immediately – strictly confidential. I’ll make the arrangements. Chaplain or psychologist?”

“Psychologist,” the officer replies, accepting help. Then he asks, “Do I have to give up my badge and gun?”

“No,” replies the supervisor. “But for your safety you have to promise me you will not kill yourself until you’ve gotten some help. Are you willing to do that?”

“O.K.,” the officer sighs. “O.K. O.K. How soon can I see the psychologist?”

“Today. I will take you myself,” replies the supervisor.

With only an hour of training, the supervisor in this abbreviated interaction applied a new, direct suicide intervention methodology. Called QPR, the intervention consists of three bold steps: questioning the meaning of possible suicidal communications, persuading the person in crisis to accept help, and referring the person to the appropriate resource.


The supervisor of this officer did all of the right things at the right time. The officer received the necessary professional help immediately, resulting in a positive outcome.

Typical of most suicidal crises, the nature of this man’s troubles took a long time to develop, but appeared brief, transient, and remedial during the crisis itself. A timely and caring confrontation about his hinted plan to commit suicide (“I’ve decided to work things out permanently”), together with an immediate referral, which included an agreement not to take his own life, enabled this officer to receive the counseling necessary to prevent a suicide attempt. This officer weathered his emotional storm and returned to duty in a few days with his pride and self-esteem intact.

Three things happened to help avert a possible tragedy, not only for the officer and his family but for the department, as well. First, the supervisor used training received in suicide prevention. Second, the supervisor acted immediately, with courage and by offering strong support. By contrast, those close to individuals contemplating suicide often respond to a suicidal communication with fear, denial, avoidance, and passivity. These responses heighten the sufferer’s sense of isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness. Third, the availability of a mental health resource to the supervisor and the officer provided immediate support. Having ready access to a safe, tolerant, and helpful professional reduces the customary resistance many officers feel when seeking help.


While statistics remain limited, law enforcement personnel are overrepresented in the suicide data. More officers lose their lives to suicide than to homicide. Research shows that the suicide rate of officers is 3 times the national average.(1) Another researcher reported that the suicide rate among police officers doubled from 1950 to 1990.(2) Considering the emotional wreckage suicides cause in friends, colleagues, and family members, even a single officer suicide is one too many.

Law enforcement personnel present an elevated suicide risk to themselves based on the often-cited reluctance of officers to seek help voluntarily or in a timely fashion. For example, if suffering from stress-induced depression, the psychological condition of suicidal people worsens over time and leads, in some cases, to a sense of utter hopelessness that clouds their thinking. When added to the well-documented risk factors of being a white, black, or Hispanic male(3) and working in a high-stress environment that requires access to a firearm, a potentially toxic psychosocial formula for personal disaster exists.

People contemplating suicide make a decision about the method they intend to use to bring about death. This decision almost always adheres with their values, personal identity, training, and the availability of the selected method. Thus, anesthesiologists tend to use drugs, pilots may use an aircraft, and law enforcement professionals almost always use a firearm. The use of a firearm provides little opportunity for rescue, resuscitation, or second chances.

Although research literature on suicide and its prevention has grown slowly due to a lack of funding, steady progress is being made. Researchers know a great deal more today than they knew 10 years ago about the psychological conditions under which people consider suicide. Among the information learned recently:

* suicidal c

COPYRIGHT 1998 Federal Bureau of Investigation

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group