By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE - Vickie Woosley believes a conversation can help save a life.
Woosley, Sports Psychologist with Vanderbilt Athletics, puts that belief into action with the athletic department's QPR training. QPR stands for "Question, Persuade, Refer" and is a seminar offered as part of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. Last month, Woosley presented QPR training to rising sophomore student-athletes participating in the Commodores' Pre-Flight Program. She also discussed mental health and available resources with newly arrived freshmen.
"The main goal of QPR is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and educate people on how to prevent suicide," Woosley said. "We talk about risk factors and the resources available here at Vanderbilt."
QPR training teaches student-athletes how to be "gatekeepers," individuals who can recognize warning signs in someone who may be contemplating suicide. Gatekeepers are presented with ways in which to question a person about suicide, persuade the person to seek help and refer them to the appropriate resource. QPR participants are presented with a handbook that offers helpful methods of gatekeeping and available resources, such as suicide hotlines and more.
Woosley said college athletes face a unique spotlight at a formidable period in their lives. Thus, mental health awareness can be a vital piece of the puzzle at this stage, Woosley said.
"I think this transition from high school to college is much harder than we realize," Woosley said. "These kids were often the top athletes where they've come from. But when they get to Vanderbilt, every student-athlete is talented. Thoughts can begin to run through their heads: `Am I going to be good enough? Am I really cut out for this?' And that's before classes begin. It can feel like walking on marbles. At any moment, you can slip.
"That's why this is one of the most important pieces of training student-athletes can get," Woosley continued. "Suicide knows no bias. It touches many people, their friends, relatives, teammates, classmates. People feel better when they know what to do."
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In situations of immediate danger from suicide, call 911. Visit www.tspn.org or call (615) 297-1077 for information, training opportunities, publications and more.