Here’s What I Think About That

We Have to Talk About This


A few days ago I read that doctors in France are writing “museum prescriptions” as a treatment for people with chronic illness or mental health issues.

“There is something powerful about the direct confrontation with a piece of art, and that can have benefits on numerous levels,” one said. “It helps them find community.”

Several museums have changed their spaces and prices to meet that need.

It reminded me how much art surrounds us on the Key Peninsula, how much beauty, and how much community if only we remember to look for it.

I took myself on a private KP art tour.

There is always a show on display at our local library. This month it’s a collection of different mediums from yarn to glossy magazines, repurposed into abstract images. At the Crandall Center, it’s local watercolors. At the KP History Museum, it’s the story of our roadways. And there’s always the student murals at the Key Center Corral and Minter Elementary School. And the pavilion built by local artisans at Gateway Park. And the efforts of the Key Peninsula Beautification Project to turn traffic medians and busy intersections into lovely gardens.

And then I learned about the death by suicide of a local middle school student, and it all seemed so pointless.

We need to talk about it.

“Talking about suicide doesn’t put ideas in someone’s head or cause suicide, it helps create a safe environment where children can ask questions,” said Kristin Francis, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute in Utah (where in 2022 suicide was the leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24).

“Suicide impacts almost everyone directly or indirectly,” she said. “Hearing about it from a trusted source, like a parent or caregiver, will assist your child with the right information and they can speak to others about it accurately. Don’t avoid the conversation because it is difficult.”

In Washington state, an average of 13 youths between the ages of 15 and 19 take their own lives each year, making us 30th in the nation, according to America’s Health Rankings. Guns are the leading method for both boys and girls, according to the Harborview PNW Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

“Middle schoolers are dealing with a lot of big emotions and likely have heard someone talking about depression or suicide. Ask what they have heard or what they know about suicide, what feelings they have about it, and what they believe to be true about the causes of suicide,” Francis said.

“Most importantly, when you ask about suicide, be ready to listen,” said Anne Nesbit, a member of the Gig Harbor & Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition (and KP Fire Department Public Information Officer). “Asking about suicide does not make anyone suicidal. Instead, when one asks about suicide, by asking directly, ‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ one makes it clear they are in a safe space to talk about it.”

Too often society makes suicide or mental health struggles a dirty secret. It is that shame and stigma that keeps people from asking for help.

Talking like this helps prevent misinformation and can help an adult meet a child where they are, without fearing judgment.

“By the time a child reaches high school, it is likely they know someone with a mental health condition,” Francis said. “The conversation about suicide needs to continue, but at this point, they need to know what to do when they or a friend has suicidal thoughts.”

Depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health conditions do not arise from weakness or a lack of willpower. It is critical that parents reassure their children, and anyone else in their lives, that these are a normal part of life, that they can be treated, and that people deserve to be heard.

“We need to focus on our mental health as much as we do our physical health,” Nesbit said. “We need to do this as a community and allow those who are struggling and feel they are in a dark, hopeless place to enter into the light knowing they will have support and not judgment as they navigate their journey to wellness.”

Suicide affects the entire community. There is help for everyone, no matter their age. We can work together to create a community where asking for help is the norm, and this starts with knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges.

There are many local avenues: The Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health sponsors classes, as does the Gig Harbor & Key Peninsula Suicide Coalition. There are instructors available at the KPFD, Communities in Schools of Peninsula, and Peninsula School District.

If you don’t want to take a class, these agencies can help with resources and support.

No one should feel they are alone. There is a big, beautiful community here ready to help.

For more information, go to or Contact Key Peninsula Fire Department for more information on mental health and suicide awareness classes at

Anne Nesbit and Ted Olinger contributed to this article.