I asked a reporter at Unnamed Major Metropolitan Newspaper, why they don’t cover suicides. Why is it that traditionally in the press there’s a veil of silence draped over taking your own life? He said it’s because they don’t want to encourage the behavior. The concern is if they report on it; others will copy. There’s no such apprehension when it comes to covering homicides, but I digress. “Plus there are far more suicides than murders and we don’t cover every murder,” is how another crime reporter put it.
But then there are notable suicides which involve famous people. Enter Jamey Rodemeyer: a 14-year-old boy from Buffalo, New York, who was tormented at school for being gay. Jamey made a video for the “It Gets Better Project” professing his love and admiration for Lady Gaga. A couple of months after posting the clip, the bullying apparently became intolerable and he committed suicide. Now Lady Gaga is tweeting about how she plans to lobby the President to elevate bullying to the level of a hate crime.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old, compared to 11th in the general population. The teenage suicide rate is 6 per 100,000, nearly half of the general population’s at 11 per 100,000. It means that of the total number of suicides in this country, few of them are teenagers, but among deaths of teenagers, suicide is one of the leading causes.
Every day around 100 Americans kill themselves. Every day.
Jamey’s death was not a statistical anomaly, we just have a media which doesn’t report suicides if they can avoid it. But when Lady Gaga tweets about it to her 14 million followers, they can no longer avoid it. Jamey’s YouTube videos only add to the haunting nature of his story.
When you watch at Jamey’s videos and hear his promise to others that it “gets better” – one is too many. It feels like an injustice. And because Jamey’s plight hurts, we all want to DO something.
I don’t know how to eradicate bullying. I don’t know if we need more people in jail in this country, especially teenagers like those who bullied Jamey. I don’t know how to make kids nicer to each other. I don’t know how to make being a teenager less painful.
I do know that suicide needs to be taken out of the closet. The idea that if we talk about suicide – if we read about it in the paper – it’ll be so tempting more people will kill themselves is ridiculous. It reeks of superstition. Censoring stories doesn’t save lives.
Eighteen U.S. military veterans a day kill themselves. It’s a kind of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that’s still being implemented. Over 6,500 vets a year die this way. That’s more soldiers dying at home in one year than in 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. And among those currently serving, in 2010 suicide took more lives of our military personnel than battle. The problem is so prevalent Obama is the first President in history to send letters of condolences to military families of troops who committed suicide.
Suicides for Native American males ages 10-24 are almost three times the national average. Also, Alaska has the most suicides per capita. In case you think it’s from lack of sunlight, New Mexico ranks number two. The vast majority of suicides are gun deaths.
The statistics on suicide are not done in real time; they’re not like opinion polls. The rate was steadily decreasing in the U.S. from the 1950s to 2007. But then, the world melted. Studies link higher rates of suicides to economic downturns. During the Great Depression, the rate spiked at 18.9 per 100,000 nationally (which is actually low for Alaska today). The iconic image of the stock market crash was of people jumping out of windows.
So we can guess that our national suicide rate is probably on the rise, across the board, along with the rising unemployment and a flailing economy. We just aren’t reading the individual episodes in newspapers…unless Lady Gaga mentions them. Suicide is still stigmatized.
And since we’re highlighting an issue – here’s one of the causes: cutbacks. As states are slashing their budgets, social services and mental health resources (including the VA) are disappearing. The number one cause of all suicides is mental illness and services to treat it are on the chopping block.
A falling tide sinks all ships.
A bad economy adversely affects our birth rate, health, increases in homelessness, domestic abuse, substance abuse and of course, suicide.
It’s the economy…stupid.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far