How to Talk to Kids about Depression, Substance Abuse and Suicide
This podcast will focus on how to talk to kids about depression, substance abuse and suicide from the perspective of a mother whose child died by suicide in 2015. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24, only behind unintentional injury, in the United States. Much of suicide has a correlation with depression and substance abuse—and while there is an epidemic of teen depression and suicide, only 45% of teen girls and 33% of teen boys who has experienced an episode of depression got treatment in 2019. It’s time to get talking. In fact, it’s talking and listening that can be the very thing that can prevent suicides from happening. We discuss the implications with Anne Moss Rogers, author of Diary of a Broken Mind, on this episode of How to Talk to Kids about Anything.
Special Guest: Anne Moss Rogers
Losing a child who dies by suicide is a devastating loss for any parent or loved one—but this kind of death carries the extra weight of stigma that we need to alleviate if we are going to help our kids who rely on us for open and honest discussion. According to the Addiction Center in the United States, suicide is the deliberate ending of one’s own life and is considered to be one of the greatest health epidemics by many on the medical field. Strange- since we don’t talk about it nearly as much as we discuss other health epidemics, do we? According to recent news out of the United Nations, Close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year, and for each death, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. Every year, suicide accounts for more deaths than war and homicide combined, and is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29, behind road injury. In the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids ages 10-14.
More sobering statistics- More than 90% of people who fall victim to suicide suffer from depression, have a substance abuse disorder, or both. There is a vicious cycle of depression and wanting to numb the pain that can then lead them to drugs and other risky behavior that can then, ironically, increase the severity or duration of the depressive episodes and impact judgment which can lead to suicide attempts—but also cause the supports around that person—family, school, friends, to crack and crumble in an effort to help that person or cope with the fallout from these behaviors. What are we to do? For help and answers, we turn to Anne Moss Rogers.
Anne Moss Rogers is an emotionally naked public storyteller, a brain tumor survivor and author of the book, Diary of a Broken Mind. She is the owner of the popular Emotionally Naked blog and co-owned and later sold her digital marketing business to pursue suicide prevention after her son Charles died by suicide on June 5, 2015. He suffered from depression and addiction. She has given a TEDx talk, Can a Blog Save Lives?, and has been interviewed by the New York Times. She has also spoken at the National Institute of Mental Health. Anne is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and lives in Richmond, VA with her husband. Her surviving son, Richard, works in LA as a filmmaker.
The podcast provides:
- Warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts
- Insights from a mother who lost a child by suicide about how the kind of child Charles was played into the troubled young adult he became
- How to start a conversation about suicide with our child since “Before the conversation on suicide becomes mainstream, it will be uncomfortable.”
- What we say to a child who had a friend who died by suicide
- How we might be able to prevent suicide
- Advice to other parents who might be suffering—or who might be quick to blame themselves for not acting or reacting sooner.
- Need to get educated about suicide to be able to see the signs.
- Signs: Talking about death, talking about overdose and suicide, talking about dying young, posting depressive thoughts “if I died today nobody would notice for 30 days.”
- Instead of freezing when a child says something like; “I will probably die young,” ask; “Can you tell me more about that? I don’t understand.” Let him/her talk. Don’t let fear freeze you.
- We all buy into that rock bottom myth- but what if the rock bottom is suicide?
- Charles, her son, never seemed to be able to get “filled up.” Broken rewards system. Addicted to sugar. Kept going. Depression. Look at a combination of factors.
- Suffered from depression. Can we expressed as anger. Mean, bullying.
- Look for underlying issues rather than just the behaviors—likely missing something. COnsequencing behavior but not treating the real issue is problematic. (See Mona Delahooke interview: DrRobynSilverman.com/MDelahooke_PC)
- Behavior highlights what’s really going on.
- Convo starter: “I heard this podcast today and they were talking about youth suicide- is this something that anyone has discussed in school? Have you ever thought any of your friends were at risk?” Share your stories- perhaps you lost someone to suicide. You share first. That gives kids a moment to think and come up with what they want to say. It’s an uncomfortable topic. They might freeze as well. Role model the “talking” behavior. You can say: “I have always been uncomfortable with this topic but I recognize that talking about it is important.”
- Age makes a difference.
- Coming out of the blue and asking about it- can make people clam up.
- 13 Reasons Why- watch it with your kids. They have removed the graphic suicide scene from the first season. When they are watching it alone and they already have risk factors, that’s a problem. When you are sitting with your child and watching them—you can have a shared experience and ask them about suicide- springboard for discussion. Reference what you thought. Why did you bring it up?
- Be honest. It scares you. I feel words. Not accusatory in any way. Given stats, they might already be nervous about a friend. They might be wondering what to do or say about a friend who is cutting or speaking about death and suicide?
- Kids aren’t always brave about asking questions about suicide but when they are, it usually is concern about a brother, sister or friend.
- Listen with empathy first.
- Even if you do the steps poorly, if you make a connection and you are truly listening, that alone can prevent a suicide.
- Tell me more. Do you have a plan? We really need to tell a trusted adult- I’d really like to do that with you. Parent, school counselor, coach. We want them to connect and listen.
- We have issues with connection in our community. Not as connected as we once were.
- Dos and Don’ts: When you hear about someone dying by suicide: Start with expressing your own fear and grief, don’t perpetuate myths like that it was selfish, acknowledge that this was a person who was hurting and had some factors that caused so much pain that they wanted to end their life. “I can’t imagine what this parent is going through. I can’t imagine losing you. I’m feeling fearful and sad.” Ask: Did you know the child well? Do you have any stories about that child? What they heard they were like. Who were they like. Personality. Starts a conversation- get the child talking about the person. Be curious. But when they start talking, not try to fix anything, but to truly listen.
- Story: A parent took her son to Anne’s talk- it opened up the conversation about suicide that saved her son’s life.
- What I wish I told my son when he was dealing with addiction was: ‘as much as I want you to get well, I love you even if you don’t.’ Our children need to know that we have that unconditional love for them. So even if you aren’t going to hand over money or take away your boundaries, you love them regardless and forever.
- Wishes she called him more to tell her son that she loved him.
- The label ‘heroin addict’ is dripping with ugliness and shame. But people are not their disease. The person is still in there and often more often than you think.
- Didn’t know the action step to take until 3 years after her son’s suicide.
- Didn’t attend the support group as often as she needed. Self care- gives a support system and connection. We aren’t meant to do this in isolation. It rejuvenates and allows you to face another day. Parents need self care too.
- Every family member needs support. To feel less alone. Support group can be the best thing to do for yourself.
- NAMI class: When you see what you are doing was not effective for his child, you can go to a class- get support, strategies, help. Can change the way you communicating with your loved one.
- Listen for the signs- reach out- take the time to connect with the other person. This is what helps to prevent suicide.
- People get stuck on talking about the end of a person’s life—when the other parts of that person’s life are just as important. We need to keep telling stories about that person- highlighting their gits and what they brought to their lives and other people’s lives. Don’t let the suicide take over the story- overshadow the person- there are many stories to tell.
- There was more to Charles than his illness.
- We never thought this could happen to us- we were a normal family- we baked cakes, we went to theme parks- it was a real wake up call and a total shock. It brought me around to learn; this could happen to anyone.
- “Parents, instead of being frozen in fear when your child says something shocking, ask; ‘Can you tell me more about that? I don’t understand.’”
- “We all buy into the rock bottom myth. My child’s rock bottom was suicide.”
- “Before the conversation on suicide becomes mainstream, it will be uncomfortable.”
- “Suicide is an uncomfortable topic to discuss so you can say; ‘I have always been uncomfortable with this topic but I recognize that talking about it is important- and I haven’t done that with you.”
- “Kids aren’t always brave about asking questions about suicide but when they are, it usually is concern about a brother, sister or friend.”
- “Even if you do the steps poorly, if you make a connection and you are truly listening, that alone can prevent a suicide.”
- “All of this is a result of a connection problem.”
- “When your child starts talking about suicide, don’t try to fix anything, but instead, truly listen.”
- “Listen more, lecture less. That’s what makes a true connection.”
- “The conversations that we think might trigger our children into thinking about suicide, if we leave it in their heads and we don’t ask the questions, they fill in the blanks with much scarier and unknown scenarios.”
- “When we drag the subject of suicide out and we put it under the spotlight, things that felt insurmountable, become more manageable.”
- “What I wish I told my son when he was dealing with addiction was, ‘as much as I want you to get well, I love you even if you don’t.’ Our children need to know that we have that unconditional love for them.”
- “The label ‘heroin addict’ is dripping with ugliness and shame. But people are not their disease. The person is still in there and often more often than you think.”
- “Parents need self-care too. There are times when you need to take a break from all that’s going on and rejuvenate and come back and fight another day. It takes constant advocacy for a child with any kind of difference- we desperately need that support system and that connection. We are not meant to do all of this in isolation and it’s ridiculous to think you can or you should.”
- “Communicating with your loved one is about listening more, not passing judgment and letting the other person know that they were heard.”
- “The one thing I really want people to know about suicide in teens is they want to tell. They are dying to tell somebody. We just need to create the environment so they can do so. We need to sit down and say; ‘tell me more.’”
- “As funny and as talented as Charles was, I think his greatest gift was letting other people know that they matter.”
- “We never thought this could happen to us- we were a normal family- we baked cakes, we went to theme parks- it was a real wake-up call and a total shock. It brought me around to learn; this could happen to anyone.”