Four years after the suicide of his son, “The Young and the Restless” star Kristoff St. John was still grieving and “deeply wounded,” according to co-star Eric Braeden.
“I think we all sort of tiptoed around what obviously weighed most heavily on his heart and his soul – and that is the death of his son,” Braeden said about St. John, who was 52 when he died. The cause of death is pending results of toxicology tests, but initial reports said alcohol poisoning might be involved.
“How do you discuss something so fundamentally tragic as that with even a friend?” Braeden said. “You don’t want to touch that wound.”
While Braeden’s discomfort and concerns are typical, experts in grief say that suicide survivors still need to be able to talk about what’s wounding them. It’s important for them to have people around them who will listen.
Survivors, who include parents such as St. John, are at increased risk themselves for depression, despair, sadness and anxiety — conditions that can lead to a mental health crisis, hospitalization or more, according to Rheeda Walker, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Houston and the director of the university’s Culture, Risk and Resilience Lab.
“Based on the best available statistics, on average for every suicide, there are six people who were close to a person who died and who will have more anxiety, more depression, and more relationship challenges following the suicide,” Walker said.
There were 47,173 suicides in the United States in 2017, making it the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Grief in and of itself is hard,” Walker said. More than most other leading causes of death, suicide comes with the added complexity of being surrounded by stigma and misconceptions, she added.
Walker said survivors often feel guilty, or that they are being judged for seeming to have missed signs of distress. Other survivors feel shame that their loved ones had a mental illness or that they were perceived as not being “strong enough” or unselfish enough to get past their despair, she added.
The grieving process also is complicated by the fact that a suicide usually is sudden, shocking and unexpected, according to the American Society of Suicidology: “The grief that ensues can be intense, complex and long term. Grief and bereavement are an extremely individual and unique process.”
St. John’s son, Julian, died in November 2014 while staying at a Long Beach mental health facility. Julian St. John had a long history of mental illness, according to People. The Huffington Post added that Julian St. John, an artist, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18.
It’s clear from reports and statements by friends and by Kristoff St. John himself that he was still grieving. Two weeks before he died, the longtime “Young and the Restless” actor retweeted someone’s post about the death of a child. The tweet read, “Grieving the loss of a child is a process. It begins on the day your child passes, and ends the day the parent joins them.”
St. John wrote, “Never a truer word was spoke.”
Never a truer word was spoke. Thanks for posting this.
— Kristoff St John (@kristoffstjohn1) January 22, 2019
But in other ways it may have been easy for people to assume St. John had moved past his grief.
In the past year, St. John, who also had two daughters, made plans to marry for the third time. He announced in late August that he was engaged to Russian model Kseniya Mikhaleva. Over the past year, St. John shared happy, romantic photos of the two of them, including when they celebrated New Year’s in Moscow. Mikhaleva said that’s the last time they saw each other.
In an Instagram post, Mikhaleva, 25, expressed her disbelief that St. John was dead, saying he might have felt “sad” and “lonely” because she was living in Moscow, studying for a business degree. She wrote: “How did it happen ??? How ??? Why did you leave so early ???? and left me alone ….. I can’t believe.”
Walker said survivors sometimes convince themselves they are doing better than they really are. That may have been the case with St. John, though it’s been reported that he suffered at least two major mental crises in the past two years.
St. John threatened to kill himself in October 2017, around the anniversary of Julian’s death, TMZ reported. The actor was placed on a 72-hour hold and subsequently took a leave of absence from “Y&R” to undergo psychiatric treatment, according to TMZ and Entertainment Tonight.
In a statement to Entertainment Tonight at the time, St. John’s first wife, Mia, said their son’s death had pushed Kristoff to “the breaking point.” She said he was trying to “deal with a tragedy that has torn apart his soul.”
“No parent should ever have to bury their child, and for those who do, it is a nightmare that haunts you forever,” Mia St. John said.
In January, Kristoff St. John checked himself into UCLA Medical Center, seeking help for depression, TMZ reported, citing a source close to the actor. The depression was in part linked to Julian’s suicide. St. John was released within a few days of his death.
The Suicidology association said there is “no given duration” that’s considered normal or healthy for mourning a loss by suicide. The association also said survivors know their lives can’t return to how they once were. They just “aim to adjust to life without their loved one.”
The best thing a friend or relative can do to help a suicide survivor like St. John is to “listen,” actively and “without judgment, criticism, or prejudice,” the association said. This kind of approach is key because survivors often are hesitant to open up because of suicide’s stigma. Survivors may also worry they will be judged because they are still grieving months or years later — as if their sadness is some kind of character flaw.
“In order to help, you must overcome any preconceptions you have had about suicide and the suicide victim,” the association said. This is best accomplished by learning about suicide. The association noted that people may feel uncomfortable discussing suicide and its aftermath, but survivors “are in great pain and in need of compassion.”
For more information about suicide, the American Association of Suicidology has information and other resources on suicide, prevention and helping survivors. If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Kristoff St. John’s death reveals risks to people grieving a suicide