For college and high school mental health and suicide prevention presentations, I start by telling the story of my youngest son, Charles, who suffered from depression, then addiction and died by suicide.
So the first one-third is my story
How did it all happen? What was he like? Why did he default to drug use? I talk about the cultural differences between my generation and theirs acknowledging the amount of content that comes at them daily.
Next one-third is how our family coped with the grief
I talk about how each person in our family coped with the loss of Charles and show a video of how his older brother, Richard answers the question, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Each of us had our different ways to manage the pain of the loss by suicide.
I throw in some funny videos and one of their classmates dons a Dr. Seuss hat and reads some seuss-like poem I wrote about rooting for oneself. The poem is silly and bouncy and lightens up what is otherwise a dour subject. But it gets the point across.
The last one-third is coping skills
This is an interactive exercise on coping skills.
Life is never perfect and we run into roadblocks, speed bumps, and land mines. Life also has epic moments of joy. How are we going to handle those earth-shattering moments? We need to know how we might cope with adversity.
Next, I ask the students to fill out a post-it note with one problem they have dealt with and put it on the whiteboard. Just one. I have a list to give them an idea of what I’m looking for.
We are all moved to tears at this part
Students who’ve been harboring some tough secrets reveal them anonymously. Then they see how others in the class, their peers sitting right next to them, are dealing with some of the same very big issues. It’s a eureka moment for all of us and I feel it in the room.
Next, we focus on coping strategies. What are unhealthy coping strategies? What are healthy coping strategies? They come up with the ideas. I only ask questions to facilitate and help them arrive at the conclusions.
The one criteria I want them to consider: Will this strategy benefit you long term?
There are some amazing answers and participation.
I end with my very favorite story about Charles and how he reached out to others. My son had more wisdom than I ever gave him credit for and I’m sorry he had to die for me to see it.
Before the students leave, I ask them to write and take with them one coping strategy and leave with me, one thing they learned.
I wish I could post all of them. They are so good.
“…IF YOU MAKE IT THROUGH TODAY,
YOU CAN MAKE IT THROUGH THE NEXT”
——RAP SONG: FIND BEAUTY BY CHARLES AUBREY ROGERS