Melissa Rivers talks about dad's suicide and "13 Reasons Why"

Melissa Rivers attends the NBCUniversal press day 2 during the 2016 Summer TCA Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 3, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Melissa Rivers says she has always been an open book when it comes to her father Edgar Rosenberg's suicide in 1987, and she's glad that her mother, the late legendary comedian Joan Rivers, taught her to be open about mental health. 

Now Rivers, who hosts "Fashion Police" on E!, is partnering with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services to erase the stigma about suicide and mental health issues. She talked to CBS News about why it's important to have discussions about mental health and how she talks to her son about suicide in the age of shows like "13 Reasons Why."

Tell me more about the Erasing the Stigma campaign with Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and why it's so meaningful to you.

Mental health has so much stigma attached to it -- and very much suicide -- and obviously that's something I care tremendously about, having lost my father to suicide. I just really believe in talking about it, and the more people get it out there and talk about it and aren't embarrassed and stigmatized -- "Oh, there's something wrong with you and your family" -- the more comfortable people are and less hidden and the more able they are to reach out for help.  

What was your experience and how did you cope with your father's suicide?

My mother forced me into grief counseling and I went in kicking and screaming, but it was the best thing she ever did. I had an almost strange reaction in the sense that I was almost angry and belligerent about it that I was like, "You know what, people? This is what happened and I'm not going to hide it." 

Did you feel the stigma you were talking about earlier after he died?

Oh, I went right back to college and it was very hard. My father killed himself in Philadelphia where Penn is and people would whisper, "Oh, her dad killed herself," or people would say, "I have so much work; I'm gonna kill myself," and then they'd say, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry," and I literally wanted to scream, "Just talk about it." Grief counseling helped tremendously. I think it's so important to talk about it.

You've said you love being a mom and that you wish you'd had more kids. What are you most proud of as a parent?

I think the thing I'm most proud of is the decisions he's making. He's 16 and as a teenager you're faced with so many decisions -- socially, emotionally, what kind of a person you are. I'm just constantly impressed by him making good decisions without having me force them onto him.

How did he learn that?

I think he's just a giant study in recessive genetics, if you want the truth. No, I think, again, nothing at home was really hidden and anything that he needed to know about or get involved in was explained and discussed in an age-appropriate manner, and teen suicide is something i'm so passionate about.

How do you feel about "13 Reasons Why," then?

I know this sounds terrible but I haven't watched it. I just really don't want to. Luckily my son has not had any interest in watching it, and I think because we've always had an open dialogue about how my father passed and suicide and that it's not an option, there's nothing you can't get through as long as you talk about it.

Were you worried for your son when the show came out?

Absolutely. We did discuss it. I came straight out and asked, "Did you watch it? Did you read the book? Do you have any interest in watching it?" and he said, "I'm in the process of watching 'Prison Break,'" which I suppose I think of as a little alarming as well.

Do you think the show is harmful?

Harmful? Let me rephrase. I think it's done a lot of good in bringing the discussion about teen suicide forward and I think in the end that's the impact of it. In the moment, I'm -- troubled isn't the right word -- concerned that there isn't enough discussion with either a parent or an adult influencer in these teens' lives during the watching of it. If I could really believe all these parents and whoever the adult is in someone's life is talking to teens while they're watching it, then I think it's good overall.

In this age of social media and cyberbullying, what do you do to make sure your son is safe?

I monitored and still monitor pretty much everything. He has my password and I have his, and now I feel like because of his age and the relationship we have, I have to not just talk the talk but walk the walk. My thumbprint works on his phone and his thumbprint works on my phone.

What parenting advice did your mom give you?

No. 1, enjoy it. And No. 2 -- "it's quality over quantity?" Guess what -- quantity matters.  

Do you see the comedy gene in your son?

One hundred percent, and that's tough because he's grown up in an environment where people are sarcastic and you have to remember sarcasm has to be tempered, so what comes out of his mouth has to be age-appropriate. We do often discuss that -- like yeah, it's coming out of a 16-year-old's mouth, so save it for later. Write it down and use it in two years.  

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    Andrea is an entertainment producer at CBSNews.com