Podcast: Teen on Suicide & Stigma


On this episode of the Mental Health Download, the CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, Mike Brose, and host Matt Gleason talk with Sophie Pazzo. She's a Tulsa teenager who shares her thoughts on the stigma of mental illness, suicide and the critical role teens like her play in making a difference in the community.

Check out some of the highlights from the conversation below.


Pazzo: Yeah, so the problem is that the topic doesn't really come up. I mean, I noticed that the youth I'm surrounded by, mental health is always perceived as something negative. Like if you talk about it, no one really wants to talk about it. They keep all their feelings in … One of the main things that is sort of overlooked is that even kids like me and my friends who are very high achieving, even we suffer from mental health related issues. I mean, I know personally I am, I’m always anxious. I'm so stressed out about school, about track, about all my extra curricular activities. I think it’s important for adults to know


Gleason: Mike, what year did you graduate high school?

Brose: Well, that would be 1973.

Gleason: Sophie's a junior in high school now, so what was the stigma of mental illness back when you were a junior?

Brose: I don't ever remember the word mental health ever being used, uh, in 1972-73. I'm sure someone did. I didn't hear about it. I think I can look back and see where there were probably behaviors going on. We were self-medicating, which, by the way, is still going on today. We don't always connect the dots. And when you're that age, it's hard to connect the dots and see, “Hey, we're out partying and using various substances possibly, and that we're actually, in effect, self-medicating our feelings or whatever.” But we didn't really use that term. Now I was going through some personal things, not too long after that related to more grief and loss of a parent, that kind of thing. But I don't think we talked about it at all. And so you can see now where Sophie, her peers, her friends, and young people her age, they're very aware of mental health. Our culture has really changed since when I was Sophie's age.

Pazzo: I agree. I mean, I was going to say the same thing. I know earlier I said that people never really speak about it, but my generation is aware of what these issues are. It's just that we're not comfortable expressing them and speaking about them openly. And that is what I hope will change.


Gleason: Did you know anyone who died by suicide, or have you heard stories of students who have been lost to suicide? And what is your hope for preventing future suicides?

Pazzo: I've definitely had friends who had had friends who committed suicide. Every time it just shocks me. It's not less of a shock every time I hear about it.

Brose: Secrets are a big deal among teenagers. For instance, “I'm going to tell you something, I'm thinking about killing myself.” That is the one secret they can’t keep. There is hope and we're here to assist them. We certainly want the listeners of the podcast to call Mental Health Association Oklahoma and know we’re a place where they can turn to for help.


Pazzo: I would just talk to them and let their feelings out. Then I would definitely suggest for them to get help. I think it's such a stigma that if people in my generation tell adults that they have some mental health related issue that they're going to look at them as someone different. This is especially true if it's someone who has really good grades and is involved in a lot of activities. They think that's all going to go away if they tell an adult. But I would talk to them, let them explain their feelings, and then I would suggest someone to help them, like Mike.