‘Question, Persuade, Refer’

Suicide subject of class lesson

ISHPEMING — It’s OK to talk about it now. In fact, it always should have been OK.

Ryan Reichel, head girls varsity basketball coach for Ishpeming Public Schools, Thursday conducted a special lesson on a sensitive subject — suicide — using the method “Question, Persuade, Refer.”

The school district, unfortunately, has some experience with the issue. In 2012, all-state athlete Daniel Olson, a student at Ishpeming High School, committed suicide.

There also was a recent suicide this school year: standout IHS student-athlete Justin Karnack.

“We try to be open about it,” Reichel said before the session.

Ryan Reichel, head girls varsity basketball coach for Ishpeming Public Schools, leads a Thursday session on suicide called "Question, Persuade, Refer." The class discussed ways to prevent suicide among their peers. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

He said data shows talking about suicide helps prevent it.

In fact, that’s what the QPR training is about.

“It just releases some of the stigmas behind talking about it, not trying to push a friend over the edge, instead being there for them, and it helps them quite a bit,” Reichel said.

He first showed a video to the class in which the narrator said: “When we have a toothache, we tell people. We don’t hide our pain, but because of the stigma and taboo around the word suicide, many people considering suicide don’t speak plainly about their suffering. They fear our rejection. They fear that if they say something, we will ridicule them or make fun of them.”

As a result, people contemplating suicide often use indirect language, hinting at what they’re thinking.

QPR training teaches people about those warning signs.

However, Reichel stressed the program isn’t about giving medical advice.

“All it is, is just for you to give hope to a friend, to a family member, another student in the building,” Reichel said. “Your job is really just to help someone, be there for them.”

He acknowledged a suicide might still happen, but lending support will help.

Telling the right person, such a faculty member, also is a good idea.

“Teachers that have the ability — it’s nice, because when you go to that class and you’re going through something, it feels a little bit better being there,” Reichel said.

Predictors of a potential suicide, he said, include a previous attempt by a person, a previous attempt by a family member or friend, depression and substance abuse.

However, students too should be aware of verbal clues, such as: “I wish I were dead. I’m going to end it all.”

Reichel suggested to address the issue and ask questions. Even if the friends were just “messing around,” the listeners should talk about the seriousness of it, even if it’s through teens’ popular mode of communication: texting.

Paying attention to behavioral clues, such as cutting, are important as well.

Ishpeming ninth-grader Brandon O’Brien has some experience in this area, with two friends engaged in such “self-harm” by cutting into their veins.

He said he was there for them.

“They always could come come to me and talk to me,” O’Brien said.

Unfortunately, not every student might have this wherewithal.

That’s what the QPR training was all about.

Taking “serious drugs” is another clue, Reichel said.

“People do this, all right? And sometimes it’s a cry for help, and people better recognize these behaviors,” Reichel said.

Other signs include:

– stockpiling pills.

– unexplained anger, aggression and irritability.

giving away prized possessions.

Physical symptoms, he said, involve things like insomnia, restlessness, being withdrawn, headaches and weight gain or loss.

Reichel gave as an example of a situational clue school expulsion, which leaves kids at home with nothing to do and nobody to talk to.

Then there are family problems, which he pointed out aren’t unique among students.

“I’m sorry tell you guys, but everyone here has family problems,” Reichel said. “I don’t care how perfect you are. We all have family issues. That’s life.”

However, some people have worse issues than others, he said.

Another clue is the loss of a major relationship, such as the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or parents divorcing.

“People get down,” Reichel said. “You might want to attempt suicide.”

A terminal illness, feeling embarrassed or humiliated in front of peers and being the victim of assault or bullying are other situations that might bring on thoughts of suicide, he said.

A recent disappointment or rejection can trigger suicidal thoughts as well.

“You get cut from a basketball team,” Reichel said. “You fail a test. You ask somebody to the prom and they say no. You ask somebody to go on a date and they say no, and you just get rejected. You feel less.”

To handle a potential suicide by asking the “suicide question,” it should be kept in mind a person might be reluctant to discuss the matter, he said.

“Be persistent,” Reichel said. “Ask questions. If they’re your friends, you can ask questions.”

A little discretion, though, is in order, as is not waiting to address the problem.

“Talk to a person alone in a private setting,” Reichel said.

Then there’s the less direct approach.

Reichel said a friend, who probably is adept at reading the other friend’s body language, could ask: “Have you been unhappy lately?”

And asking a question, he noted, means a person is observing and caring.

In other situations, the direct approach —“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” — might be needed.

What’s not needed, he said, is this question: “You’re not thinking about suicide, are you?”

Reichel said that indicates a person might be judging the other.

That might exacerbate the situation.

“When you’re passing judgment, people aren’t going to want to give you the truth,” Reichel said.

He told the students they should give friends who are having mental crises their full attention, which includes putting away their cell phones. They also direct those friends to a school counselor.

Even a teacher can be involved.

“I want everyone in this classroom to know that they can always come to me,” Reichel said.

That’s an important thing to remember, as he noted suicidal young people often believe they can’t be helped — but friends, adults, schools and doctors can lend a helping hand or listening ear.

And Reichel stressed that a friend’s intervention shouldn’t be misconstrued as a betrayal.

“You are not being disloyal,” Reichel said. “You are being very loyal by trying to keep your friend alive. Disloyal would be not doing anything, not acting on it, not caring about your friend’s feelings.”

He stressed QPR is a group effort.

“We’re in this together,” Reichel said. “Suicide affects everyone in this building. Everybody. When Justin passed, what happened to our school for a few days?”

The answer: full breakdown mode.

“We weren’t teaching any lessons,” Reichel said. “We were just trying to make sure you guys were safe. The school itself wanted to make sure you got through this. They brought those therapy dogs. They brought more counselors. They brought in more people to help you get through this.

“And we got through this together.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.