This Is Probably the Scariest Conversation to Have With Kids—But It's Essential

All the "difficult" conversations from my childhood are indistinct memories. There is one conversation, however, that is still sharply outlined and crystallized in my mind.

I was 11 years old, and it was the first day back to school after winter break. I had had a nightmare the night before, so I crawled into bed with my sister. My mom woke us early and sat at the foot of the bed wearing a calm mask to cover the heartbreak in her eyes, and though I could read her mood well, I definitely didn't understand it. She told me a girl from my after-school program, one I greatly admired, had "taken her own life." With no concept of what it meant to take a life, I mirrored my mother's reserved but palpable pain and then went on my way. What happened next is a bit fuzzier. 



Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

I remember the air was thin and the sky was cheerful, unlike most mornings when the city was shrouded in heavy fog, an inconsistency that felt cruel. I remember rushing out of the car and into my teacher's arms, ready to report the news I'd heard (a  flippant announcement of my friend's death that pierces me with a surge of profound guilt each time I think of it). Sensing my cluelessness but not my shock, she explained suicide to me differently. She removed the cloak of safety my mother tried to wrap me in that morning and the blunt blow of her words split me open. It wasn't just the delivery that shattered my world; it was the actual act of suicide and the wake of despair it left. 

Suicide never gets less painful to process; that familiar feeling—which is too endlessly complex in its devastation to name—is a bellied ache each time. But I'm not here to articulate the inarticulable; there are ways to talk about it, and we should talk about it.

To honor all the lives lost to suicide, to support the loved ones and communities left behind, to destigmatize this public health concern, and to take part in Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we reached out to professional psychologist Deepika Chopra, PsyD, to learn how to talk to kids about suicide. Read on her for advice.