Rory Linnane is the lead reporter for JSOnline’s Kids In Crisis Series. Her work has gained statewide attention and is giving teens the opportunity to tell their stories about mental health. Projects like this have become critical in ending the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. Below is a conversation with Rory Linnane.
Madison Sveum: Where did the idea for the Kids In Crisis series come from?
Rory Linnane: It started because a lot of our reporters were noticing that teen suicide was such an increasing and terrible issue. Reporters all around the state were seeing it happen in their communities and our publisher wanted to look into why that was happening. I started digging into it and explored the role of mental illness in suicide. We were looking for the root cause of teen suicide, and were asking how do we address mental health challenges and reduce the stigma around mental health. Stigma is one of the biggest barriers.
MS: How did you become the lead reporter for the project?
RL: It started as an assignment. If I hadn’t of been interested in the project I think it would have been over in a few months and instead it’s been a few years. I became really passionate about it once I began researching it. One reason I’m so interested in writing about it from a journalistic perspective is because it’s an avoided topic in the media and the fact that one of the main problems is that people aren’t talking about it. It’s a really clear role for journalists to play in the equation, to start a conversation about it. We had a lot of community events, we didn’t want it to just be us writing about it. We wanted to engage people in it. Having those events and meeting people face to face who’ve experienced suicide, in one way or another, is really powerful.
MS: I attended one of the events in May, it was so powerful like you said, why do you think these are critical in the community?
RL: That’s great that you attended! They are so important, in one regard for bringing down the stigma. It's great for young people especially to see their peers talking about what they’ve been through. A lot of times when we talk about suicide in the media, we talk about the people we’ve lost. I think there it's really impactful to also talk about people who have been there and wanted to die yet have gotten through it. It’s a necessary reminder that feelings are incredibly temporary and if you can get through that and get the help that you need, you can go on to live a really amazing life. The message is key and having all those people together in a room is much different than everyone reading it in isolation on our computer screens at home. It’s a great communal experience.
MS: Were the events part of the initial idea for the series?
RL: We knew we wanted to have some kind of events but in the beginning, in 2016, when we held events we had panel discussions. They were excellent because we had school, government, and health officials on the panel. Parents and teachers could bring questions to the events and get them answered. I wanted to do something different this past year. I wanted to make it more engaging and youth focused.
MS: What drove you to continue the project and keep the content coming out? Do you have any personal connection with mental health challenges?
RL: I have had friends who have been suicidal and I’ve tried to help through those moments and one friend who I lost to suicide. That's always in the back of my mind when I’m working on this. It makes me just that much more familiar with how important it is. I myself see a therapist. I want to break down the idea that you are either severely mentally ill or you are healthy and you don’t need any help. There are all the inbetweens and ups and downs, everyone needs some support for their mental health.
MS: That puts some significant meaning behind your words. When did the sister podcast come into play?
RL: We started ‘This is Normal’, just this past year. We hadn’t done it before, the platform is good for the subject because it allows us again to bring youth voices really to the center of the project. It let us bring those voices to listeners. I think it’s powerful when you can hear their own voices and how they talk about it. There is going to be another season of the podcast and we are aiming for next fall for it to come out.
MS: When you became the lead reporter on the project what kind of response were you expecting from the community?
RL: I expected people to pay attention because it is naturally attention grabbing topic, Teen Suicide, it’s a tragic thing. I didn’t anticipate all of the positive things that came out of it, in all ways, especially that it can be an uplifting subject for me to cover. When I first started out my first story was about a specific teen suicide, which was really, really sad. I was thinking about the project being in that really dark, sad place. Even just talking to that teen's parents and hearing the work that they were trying to do was ultimately uplifting. I saw how much people care. It was also good talking to the young people and seeing how excited and open they were. I thought it was going to be super hard to find people who would be willing to talk on the record, with their face and their name, about mental health. It was really inspiring.
To find out more about Kids in Crisis go to: