In the wake of the death of Robin Williams, I think it is prudent to stop and reflect on what this means for our children. And for us as parents.
I didn’t tell my son that Robin Williams committed suicide. He probably heard it on the news. He hears things I think he hasn’t.
Why, though, is this a topic so difficult to broach? Why is mental illness such a challenging thing to mention and acknowledge?
There are policies popping up in school districts across the state. The policies have to do with suicide awareness and prevention. The content of these policies will hopefully shed light on the warning signs such that adults are better equipped to address the needs of our youth in sensitive and responsive ways. In addition, the policies formalize interventions available to young people who are struggling with issues of depression and thoughts of suicide.
My district’s policy (G-21) requires that there be a parent training available at every school. I am looking forward to being part of such a training. I certainly don’t feel like an expert when it comes to addressing mental health issues at the school level. I am eager to learn ways of age-appropriately communicating with my son about mental health as well as helping the children I serve as an administrator.
I think the biggest thing coming out of Robin Williams’ death is reducing the stigma attached to mental health. I think depression and other mental illnesses have been marginalized by society. They are not thought of in the same vein as physical ailments. People with mental illness are sometimes perceived and treated as flawed and weak.
As someone who has struggled himself with issues of anxiety, I want to pass on to my son a comfort level with these kinds of issues. I want him to know there is nothing wrong with seeking help to work through difficult times or difficult issues. I’m hoping that a positive attitude toward mental health will help my son work through the challenges he faces in the years to come and provide him the language to attach to some of these challenges.
And yet, I am currently still silent about the topic of suicide with my son. My thoughts go to: what if discussion of suicide actually plants an idea in the mind of my son? Rationally, I know this is unrealistic because knowledge is power.
I look forward to, along with all of you parents out there, working to understand the school-based policies that are available for suicide prevention and to access these policies in keeping our children safe. School is not the panacea for every societal ill but can be a tremendous asset in recognizing indicators exhibited by troubled youth and acting on these warning signs in collaborative and life-saving ways.