TOWANDA - Recent mass shootings, including the one in Newtown, Conn., have underscored the importance of recognizing serious mental illness and making treatment available to the mentally ill.

Recently, The Main Link, in partnership with the Chemung County Department of Mental Hygiene, began offering a training program in Bradford County that helps the public recognize people who have a particular mental health issue - namely, those who are suicidal - with the goal of getting them the help they need, said Mark Beauchemin, executive director of the Main Link.

The program, which is called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) is "a free, one hour suicide prevention training designed to train the general public in the three simple steps that anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide," according to a press release from The Main Link.

"Just as people trained in CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver help save thousands of lives each year, people trained in QPR learn how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help," the press release states.

QPR "is a very basic course. It's a good course for anyone from high school students up to mental health professionals," said Dr. Brian Cassetta, an internist at Guthrie's Big Flats, N.Y., office who volunteers in Bradford County to give QPR trainings.

Since 1995, more then 9,000 certified QPR instructors have been trained in the United States and other countries, and by end of 2011, more than 1,250,000 citizens had been through the QPR training, according to The Main Link.

"Each of us can learn how to save the life of a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or family member" by taking the QPR training, the press release says.

In 2012, the Chemung County Department of Mental Hygiene began providing QPR trainings at locations in Bradford County, including trainings for employees at Memorial Hospital and DuPont.

Jeff Russell, a spokesman for Memorial Hospital said he attended the QPR training at Memorial Hospital, which was given by Dr. Cassetta.

"It was absolutely excellent," Russell said of the training. "It was very educational."

"The whole point of this is that you don't need to be a mental health professional to recognize the signs of (someone who is) suicidal and to be able (to assist someone in getting) professional help," said Doris Jean Metzger, who is the coordinator of The Main Link's suicide prevention program.

Many people "don't know how to talk" with someone who may be suicidal, or don't know how to get them the help they need, and therefore never try to help someone whom they suspect is suicidal, Metzger said. QPR works to eliminate those barriers, Metzger added.

QPR will "hopefully give people the confidence to help" by teaching them how to talk to someone who is suicidal and how to get them help, said Mark Beauchemin, one of the two executive directors of The Main Link.

"You don't have to solve their problem," Metzger said, describing how someone trained in QPR would interact with someone who is suicidal. "Just show that you care and that there is hope and get them to the appropriate help. You don't have to have the answers to their problems."

Through QPR training, the public "is not trained to be a counselor," she added.

QPR is designed for high school and college students, and adults of all ages, said Metzger and Cassetta.

"If your organization, business, college, or faith group is interested in a free QPR suicide prevention training, please contact Doris Jean Metzger or Mark Beauchemin at the Main Link, at (570) 265-0620," the release states.

Metzger said that she is about to undergo training to become a QPR instructor so that organizations in Bradford County will no longer have to rely exclusively on the Chemung County Department of Mental Hygiene for instructors to provide the QPR training.

The QPR Institute in Spokane, Wash., provides the training for QPR instructors, said Metzger, who is a part-time librarian at the Van Etten Public Library in Van Etten, N.Y.

According to The Main Link, more people die from suicide than from car accidents or the flu.

And the suicide rate in Bradford County is high, compared to the national average, Beauchemin said.

The QPR Institute says its goal is to have at least one member of every family be trained in QPR.

In addition to the QPR program, the Chemung County Department of Mental Hygiene has begun offering a three-hour training in suicide prevention in Bradford County, called SAFETALK, Metzger said.

SAFETALK training "is the same as QPR, but it expands on it," by providing more information in certain areas, she said.

SAFETALK "is extremely helpful as well," she said.

"The public is welcome to take SAFETALK" training, although it is more difficult to convince a member of the public to take the course, due to its three-hour length, she said.

Recently, Bradford County resident Scott Meyer donated $2,000 to The Main Link's suicide prevention program, she said. The $2,000 was raised at a golf tournament that is held annually in Tioga County, N.Y., to raise money for suicide prevention, she said. The tournament, which Meyer founded and organizes, is held in memory of Meyer's son.

Part of the $2,000 will be used to pay for the training that Metzger will receive to become a QPR instructor.

Memorial Hospital is planning to partner with The Main Link to offer a QPR course, "or something very similar to it" for the public in March, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, Russell said.

For more information on QPR, go to www.qprinstitute.com and click on "About QPR".

The Main Link is a non-profit, consumer run, mental health support center with offices in Sayre and Towanda, Pa.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.