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I’m not suicidal… But we should talk

My sister did something brave two years ago when she started getting national interviews about her bestselling energy beverage: She talked about her depression. She explained that she used her hobby for brewing new and innovative teas as a way to help her cope — and to keep her energy levels high with caffeine.

Not everyone needs an energy drink, but everyone needs to be able to talk about their mental health. I remember struggling to tell my family that I was in therapy after my father’s recent divorce. In my mind, I could be strong and ask for help at the same time and I wanted my family to know that.

As a medical student in Palo Alto, I find it devastating that so many people face mental health issues and that we continue to have suicide clusters every few years. What can we do to help our young people cope? What can we do to help our loved ones who are struggling?

I was recently introduced to a series of videos, created by Stanford psychiatrist Rona Hu, MD, and colleagues as a resource for families to learn how to communicate with their teenagers and adolescents. A website includes videos of several skits showing real-life strategies for parents to use in order to more successfully talk with their beloved children about stress, insecurity, and mental health. The topics include self-cutting, hugging goodbye, and reacting to a teenager who hasn’t studied for a test (as shown in the video above).

Even though my sister and I are in our late twenties, the strategies this group provides hit home with me. If I had only known about them when my sister was struggling with depression in college, I might have been able to express my love for her in a way that shone through to her. If my family member had only seen these videos, maybe they would have known how to respond when I told them I was in therapy because my family was fracturing.

These videos are specifically geared toward Bay Area families and toward families with teenagers. They also focus on Asian American families because four out of four of the last suicide cluster in Palo Alto were Asian American teens. But the suffering and struggling and needing help is not limited to one demographic or one age range. We all go through difficult times in our lives, and I wonder if tools like these would help us break through to the light.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.

Natalia Birgisson is a fourth-year medical student at Stanford. She is in her second year off and writing her first novel, which is described on her site

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