In the 12 minutes it may take you to finish reading this article and share it with a friend, another American life will be lost to suicide.
Believe it or not, journalists have a set of rules they are supposed to follow and one of them heavily suggests not covering suicides in the media due to a contagion effect. This effect is described as when one person is reported to have killed themselves, another will see it as an opportunity to copy them and then so on and so forth.
“Generally, AP does not cover suicides or suicide attempts, unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are particularly unusual or publicly disruptive. Suicide stories, when written, should not go into detail on methods used,” states a recent entry in the Associated Press Style Book.
However, whether they are reported or not, suicide rates continue to rise and take some of the best people the world has to offer with it. This is not to say that the copycat effect isn’t real, it is real. For every suicide, 25 attempt. Leaving out the reasons behind suicide, by summing it up to a contagion and not properly educating the community on how to prevent them, is careless.
If we do not report on a problem, how does the community know that the problem exists and therefore, what they need to do in order to fix it? Recently at Pasadena City College, we have had more events on suicide prevention and increased attention to services for mental health following a public suicide on campus.
Services that already existed were at the forefront of conversations and the events brought attention to them. For example, the Personal Counseling center on campus provides students with 28 free sessions with their health fee a year and unlimited walk-in appointments when they do not have an appointment scheduled.
If we hadn’t covered the suicide that happened on campus, the hunt for resources for students would not have been triggered and possibly would have left another person without life saving information. It would have only run on the local news station and been swept away.
Suicidal thoughts branch from feelings of helplessness and extreme empathy for those who care for them and are often rooted in financial hardship, personal trauma like assault or struggles with addiction. People who care so deeply about how they affect the world, to a point that they want to take themselves away from it, are the ones I would like to keep around for good.
By not talking about the problem, it only grows stronger with a deeper hold on the community. A similar demon in our society is addiction and the way it has been covered.
Before, media indirectly placed blame on the victim of the addiction by not attributing the psychological predisposition one affected by addiction possesses. The AP Styleguide has since corrected this with an entry on proper language and citing research that the addiction is not the user’s fault.
If AP were to address the idea that suicide is preventable by focusing on the way the community interacts with each other than just on the death, then maybe we wouldn’t need to discuss if we should cover suicides because they won’t be happening anymore.
Per AP guidelines, it is requested that media do not report on the method that was used because others fear it would lead to copycats but the method is leaked regardless. When someone googles, “ways to kill yourself” the search results first show the number to the Suicide Prevention hotline but only a short scroll below the initial search result can find what they asked for.
Not talking about the method and the process does not deter the curious from searching. You can’t defeat the thoughts or prevent them from happening but you can at least make an attempt to understand them.
When we essentially blacklist suicide from the conversation by not reporting on the event, it’s like confirming that it didn’t matter. The suicide on campus had signs warning others to stay away and to call 911, not for him but for them. Gordon Yu was more concerned with saving those around him than himself.
The Courier didn’t know it was a suicide at first. I was hoping it was an accident and the ambulance would have a purpose that morning. The extension of human empathy goes beyond direct connection. This is why we report on death in the first place, because every time, it is a tragedy. On the same day Yu died, a woman jumped from the Colorado Street Bridge around the same time.
We count the losses because each one matters, each counts.
By talking about the problem and understanding that there is nothing wrong with thinking about killing yourself and that it is normal, we can help more people come forward without shame to get the help that they need so we can keep them here.
In case you or someone you know needs support, here are some resources
Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Crisis Text Line, the free, nationwide, 24/7 text message service for people in crisis, is here to support. For support in the United States, text HELLO to 741741 or message at facebook.com/CrisisTextLine.