Educating youth on suicide, depression crucial for understanding, recovery

Sep 30, 2018

In an article published in Slate Magazine, author Erica S. Perl advocated for an increase in books available and written for children on suicide and severe mental conditions to spread awareness and help eliminate the stigma that often comes with the subject of mental health.

Perl, author of “All Three Stooges” and other books, wrote “Alone in the Dark: Why we need more children’s books about suicide and severe depression” to explain why mental health education is important at a young age. She joined us to discuss her latest book and the article on "Take Care."

“Suicide is, unfortunately, all around us,” Perl said. “It is a leading cause of death at this time, and it’s such an incredibly painful and personal thing for the families affected.”

Perl said that a suicide can have a ripple effect on the community that is rarely discussed, especially with children. However, children can and should learn about issues like depression and suicide, she said, to help bring that ripple effect to the forefront of discussion.

“Kids who are the age of my characters -- which is 12 -- and even younger can actually grapple with these issues and want to know more about and deserve to know more about mental health and mental illness,” Perl said.

“All Three Stooges” tells the story of two 12-year-old boys who like comedy. When one of their fathers dies by suicide, the experience takes a toll on their friendship. Perl said much of the book’s inspiration came from personal experience, while the content and character development came from research, from personal interviews to volunteering at a grief camp.

When she talked to her editor about the idea for “All Three Stooges,” she received nothing but support, but she said that after the book came out and she talked to gatekeepers, many expressed reluctance toward sharing the book with kids. This was especially present with parents who had not brought it up with their child yet because they did not feel their child was ready.

The reluctance is similar to that expressed with topics like drugs and sex, Perl said, but her research taught her that it is a crucial topic for parents to discuss.

“I don’t think you should cavalierly toss a suicide into a book where it’s completely out of context, but I do think that it’s a topic that kids that age, as I said, need to encounter and deserve to encounter,” Perl said.

Perl said that some parents may want to bring up the subject, and they walk into book stores to find information, but they do not know where to begin. Books about suicide geared toward children can act as that needed jumping-off point, Perl said, a book parents and children can read and discuss together to reach a better understanding as a family.

“[Suicide] exists in life, and it should be there in books,” Perl said. “And if you start talking about them…kids may dip in, and then, you’re at a point where you can have that conversation.”