Bringing JOY to a Difficult Topic
Some conversations are harder than others. No one wants to talk about child and teen suicide because we don’t want to believe that it exists.
But it does.
Cook Children’s saw a record number of patients attempting suicide from 2020-2021 and decided to talk about it. The JOY Campaign was created as a suicide communication prevention initiative, which led to the launch of the Raising Joy podcast. Cohosts Wini King and Dr. Kristen Pyrc explore topics of anxiety, stress, depression, trauma, and suicide to bring hope and needed resources to struggling children and families. Listeners can find weekly episodes on Apple and Google podcasts.
Tell us about the JOY Campaign and how it sparked the creation of Raising Joy.
We started the Joy Campaign in April 2021 in response to an alarming number of children and teens being admitted to Cook Children’s Medical Center after attempting suicide. Our initial goal was to release six articles about the youth mental health crisis and a series of ‘coping skills’ videos that families could use to manage stress and anxiety at home.
The response to the Joy Campaign was so strong and positive that we decided to keep publishing articles on a wide array of topics related to mental wellbeing and suicide. Over the course of the year, we listened to and learned from dozens of passionate expert voices about this topic. We knew we had to keep going and felt a podcast would be an even better way to present this information.
What makes podcasting the best medium for this topic?
I’m not sure if there is a best medium for this topic, but I do believe mental health is something we should be talking about anywhere and everywhere we can.
Podcasts are unique in that they allow the listener to be part of the conversation. We can hear the entire dialogue, not just a soundbite or a quote. This helps us make sense of issues, especially big, scary ones such as a child wanting to harm themselves.
Through podcasting, we are able to sit down and really dig into this problem and come up with solutions in a very relatable way. One thing I love about the Raising Joy podcast is the different perspectives the hosts bring to the conversation. Dr. Kristin Pyrc is so knowledgeable as a child psychiatrist, she understands these topics inside and out. Wini, on the other hand, is like the rest of us trying to make sense out of something that can be difficult to understand. As a former reporter, she’s able to ask questions that get to the root of the issue while relating in a very human way to the listener.
People often perceive mental health issues to be a largely “adult” problem. But what does research suggest about children and teens?
We know children and teens struggle with their mental health just as much, if not more so than adults. Our data on suicidal patients at Cook Children’s showed a nearly 50% increase in admissions to our medical center from 2020 to 2021. To be clear, we saw 434 children and teens hospitalized last year – many of whom overdosed on over-the-counter medication in their homes. We also know this has been a growing problem for many years. Compared to 2015, admissions for suicidal patients have spiked more than 200%.
How did you choose the show’s hosts?
Both Wini and Dr. Pyrc have been heavily involved in the Joy Campaign from the very beginning. Dr. Pyrc is an avid podcast listener and pitched the idea of starting a podcast (which we on the PR team were also considering). The vision was to create a platform for in-depth interviews, with an expert and a “normal” person leading the conversations. We were really excited about the unique perspectives both Dr. Pyrc and Wini bring to the table.
What feedback have you received from parents and families?
The feedback we have received has been incredible. It’s evident that there is a need for this kind of content, and it strikes a chord with people in a powerful way. We heard many parents say they’ve learned things on the podcast that they now use with their children – including Dr. Pyrc. She says she always learns something new from our guests, which is pretty exciting. We’ve also heard it’s helping parents start these important, yet difficult conversations with their children and teens.
The youth suicide rate in Tarrant County is pretty staggering. What gives the team at Cook Children’s hope that these statistics can be reversed?
We are encouraged to see the suicide admission rates at Cook Children’s on the decline in 2022. We are hopeful that this trend will continue, especially with so many parents now aware of the problem and feeling more empowered to check in with their kids and get help at the first signs of trouble.
How do you encourage parents to foster productive conversation about depression and suicide with their child?
On nearly every episode of Raising Joy, you will hear Dr. Pyrc and our experts talk about this question. They want parents to know that talking to a child about suicide will not give them the idea, but it will help you know if your child needs help. The most important thing parents can do is simply open the lines of communication and listen.
What options/resources do parents and families have who want to get their child help?
Cookchildrens.org/joy is a great place to start if you’re looking for resources for your child. We have a full list of resources for help in Tarrant, Denton, Collin, and Dallas counties, as well as national help lines.