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How I Spoke to My 8-Year-Old About Suicide and Depression

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Two weeks ago, my 8-year-old's best friend's mother took her own life. She was brilliant, well-educated and for all intents and purposes would be described as "having it all." You know, like Robin Williams. I was faced with the responsibility of sitting him down to talk about depression and ultimately, suicide. It wasn't a discussion I expected to have with a kid young enough to require interrupting a Disney channel show to do it. But as parents we aren't always afforded the luxury of shining a light on what a bitch the world can be when it's convenient for us.

"Do you know what 'depressed' means?" I asked.

"No. Well, sort of."

"Ok. Well, depressed is one of those words that people sometimes use lightly to say that they're disappointed about something. But DEPRESSION is actually a disease. Like cancer. Sometimes people's brains can be sick and it makes them really, really sad. But not regular sad like we feel once in awhile. That sort of sad is pretty good. It makes happy feel even better, and it goes away. Depression makes it hard for people to do anything. Even things you have to do. Like get out of bed. And sometimes it gets so bad that it makes people hurt themselves. Not because they really want to, but their brain can't help it. Daddy and I are always here to talk about how you're feeling and we talk to each other, too. Does all that make sense to you?"

Suicide isn't selfish, weak, or cowardly. There are moments I look into the faces of my children and think, "I could never leave you. Ever." Parents who have taken their own lives have thought the same. And while that terrifies the ever loving shit out of me, the more we talk about depression as a disease like cancer, and heart disease and diabetes and epilepsy and on and on because it is, the more the stigma is lifted. The easier it becomes for people to ask for help and get it. And in explaining it to our children that way, maybe they won't grow up to be ignorant news anchors who refer to those suffering from mental illness as "cowards."

Forward march. Gently.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.