Journalist, Teen Explore Mental Health Issues

Micah Fink will never forget the day his teenager, Sydney, asked him, "Dad, is it normal for so many kids to be thinking about killing themselves?"

Though he found the question alarming, he didn't know quite how to respond. He shied away from an in-depth discussion, hoping these thoughts were temporary. Later, he realized that his response shut down what could have been an important conversation. Eventually, he decided to broach the topic further.

That decision ultimately sent him and Sydney down a path that led to a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism and a podcast called "Conversations with Sydney" that fosters crucial conversations about teen suicide prevention and mental health through intimate discussions with experts, teachers, teens, and parents.

Established in 1996 by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the Mental Health Journalism Fellowships provides journalists with tools to help them more effectively and accurately cover mental health, which remains one of the world's most underreported health concerns.

"I'm grateful to The Carter Center for supporting a mental health fellowship and supporting a nontraditional project," said Fink. These stories wouldn't have been told otherwise."

As Fink and Sydney, who is non-binary, navigated the podcast, they investigated societal factors that might be contributing to the crisis.

"As a society, we've been through civil war, global war, fear of nuclear war, economic crisis, racial crisis, racism, terrorism, and all sorts of traumas. Kids have been resilient up until recently. So what’s changed?" Fink asked.

His answer: a decrease in connection and community.

The two spent many episodes discussing these topics, and though they didn't always come out with concrete answers, each episode is a search for effective solutions.

They discussed how parents can initiate conversations about mental health and suicide with their children, highlighted signs of suicidal ideation, and talked about ways to prevent suicide. They also addressed the issue of self-injury and offered guidance on healthier coping methods.

"We're hoping people will hear both Sydney's voice and my voice in an intergenerational conversation about perhaps the most important issues in our lives," Fink said, "because we have different ways of seeing the world."

And people across the nation did hear them. Week after week the podcast gained more listeners, and teachers and parents reached out to say they had tuned in and gained valuable insights on how to approach the topic of suicide with their children and students. Many teens were eager to be part of the podcast and share their perspectives. The podcast went on to win two Signal Awards.

At a time when teen suicide rates are on the rise, "Conversations with Sydney" found ways to break the silence on this hard-to-talk-about issue and pave the way for a brighter, healthier future for our youth.

"If we can help one other person who's struggling, one other family in crisis — if we can encourage people to seek help and perhaps save one life — then the whole project is worthwhile," said Fink.

Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.


"Conversations with Sydney" Podcast »

Learn more about the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism »


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