The recent death by suicide of reality television character Russell Armstrong, husband of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong, has sparked media conversation about the dangers of reality TV. But in my mind, the real danger here is the effect that his suicide could have on his three children.
In addition to Kennedy, the daughter he had with Taylor, Russell Armstrong had two older sons from previous relationships. His children are 13, 11 and 4. According to research by Johns Hopkins, children under 18 who lose a parent to suicide are THREE times more likely to end their own life by suicide as well. That’s an awful statistic.
Listen, I can’t find it in myself to pretend I can understand the desperate state Mr. Armstrong must have been in, in order to commit this final, devastating act. But, while I understand some of how suicide happens as a counselor, also as a counselor my heart cries out for the children involved.
This is not their fault. The youngest daughter, featured on the show, cannot BEGIN to understand how or why her father left her. All three children are at risk of blaming themselves, in the egotistical way of children, for his choice.
While Russell Armstrong must have felt at the end of his options, he is in the end responsible for the effects this will have on his children. I hope the good that might come out of this is a raised awareness of the impact suicide has on all family members and friends, but especially on sons and daughters.
Again, I must emphasize that I cannot BLAME Russell Armstrong. I am not without my own personal failings that I can so easily point a finger. But I can hold him responsible for the fallout against his children. When you choose to have a child (and in these days, no one can say it’s not a choice) you enter into a social and moral contract to be there for that child, not only in matters of food, shelter, and education, but in emotional support. Children need their parents to teach them vicariously and directly how to navigate the complicated emotional landscape sparked in us at birth.
As counselors, we should be encouraging our suicidal clients, in an understanding way, to put their children first. While providing complete empathy and support for their very real emotions, we need to educate our clients on the possible impact it can have on their children to end their life, as well as the good they can do by overcoming this.
And it’s important to remember that the reverse can be true as well. While children can learn how to handle complicated emotions negatively from parental suicide, witnessing parents learn healthy emotional behavior can in turn teach them how to healthily deal with their own emotions. Parents have a wonderful opportunity here not only to forge their own triumph, but to pave the way for their children to do the same. The more difficult the challenge, the more powerful the lesson can be.
May our hearts and prayers go out to Kennedy and her two half-brothers right now. Nothing is set it stone, and with support and love, they have every opportunity to overcome this dark incident.
Reference: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (2010, April 23). Children who lose a parent to suicide more likely to die the same way, study finds.
Stephanie Ann Adams is a counselor who believes in the ability of the mind to understand and change behaviors, and in each person’s power to create the life they want. She helps clients and counselors start something new every day at Beginnings Counseling & Consulting, www.stephanieadamslpc.com.