Why Newspapers Rarely Mention Suicides

Jamey Rodemeyer

Jamey Rodemeyer

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.

Itina dupuy 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.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

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.

tina dupuyAnd 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.

Tina Dupuy
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far

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Comments

  1. Brian Knowles says

    Y’all have a completely bass=ackward take on this problem. When I was in HS, long ago, I was briefly bullied. I took a ball bat to the bully, and it stopped. I never complained to the HS administration about the bullying, the bully never complained about the limp.

    Two years (about) ago, I was walking through a Safeway parking lot, when three black guys and what was then called a “whigger”, demanded my spare change, with knives. I showed ‘em my .357, they changed their minds and left. I never reported the attempted robbery, they never reported my carrying a gun…

    We need, IMHO, a lot less whining and a lot more self-reliance.

    Some former Marine…

  2. Jason Alston says

    I’m shocked that someone told this woman the things they did concerning why individual suicides are not reported in the news. I may have only been at a small daily paper, but I used to work as a reporter nontheless, and as mentioned earlier in another comment, you just have to spare the families in a suicide case. The public needs to know when people are murdered (because of there will be judicial proceedings hopefully that will cost the public, plus the public may be subject to harm from the offending individual or may have evidence or testimony that can be used to prove the innocence or guilt of an arrested person). The public should know when people are killed in car accidents because these are the streets we are paying for, there is accident investigation, and especially if alcohol is involved, people need to really know the grave consequences of unsafe driving.

    Quite frankly, I don’t see the public benefit of reporting an individual suicide unless that person is some sort of public figure. You want to publish suicide rates and write about suicide trends, go for it, but when I see a suicide report in the stack of public incident reports at a law enforcement agency, I don’t include it in the blotter and my publisher wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

  3. Dan McCrory says

    Hello??!! Doesn’t anybody realize the REAL reason why they don’t report suicides? The families! If you’re already hurting, maybe wondering if there’s something you could have said or done to avoid the tragedy, do you really want to read about it in the paper? Also, as George pointed out, the reason for the suicide is not always immediately evident. I think the LAST reason the media doesn’t report suicides is the one stated by the clueless reporter Tina talked to.

  4. george says

    Avoiding copycat behavior is one rationale.

    One wonder’s if there is any evidence to support the claim that reporting such cases actually influences behavior.

    Stigma is another that may influence reporters’ behavior.

    When the subject matter makes reporters and readers uncomfortable, there’s little incentive to report.

    You see a clear analogue with the scope of coverage Google News shows for child abuse cases. If the case is clearly heinous, outrageous and beyond the pale (Caylee Anthony), it is understandable as evil and receives wide coverage. When a bad person does a bad thing, everybody is against it.

    However, shaken baby cases receive far less coverage, particularly when the apparent perpetrator is a “good” parent. We either can’t readily understand why a “good” person does a bad thing or we understand too well the motivation.

    It’s not an action that we can readily condemn, we’re not able to say only people like “them” would do such a thing, and the mixture of emotions that follows makes us much more uncomfortable.

    In consequence, many editors are biased on an individual and professional level to avoid those stories, and many reporters don’t develop the skills necessary to write them or put them in perspective.

    Not to mention that it is undoubtedly hard to get all of the facts of these stories.

    Reporting the facts is a necessary step, but unless the media are able to explain why things happen, and how such things can change, it isn’t sufficient..

    Not the only reason we learn so little, but it’s a factor.

    • Marti says

      Sometimes newspapers and other media are confused by what to do. Those of us who work in suicide prevention know that young people who complete suicide should not be memorialized. When suicides are reported there should be a way to let the reader know where to go for help 1-800-Suicide or their local crisis center. This should not be confused with stigma. We always want to talk about it and educate others about the warning signs. There are media guidelines published on the afsp website as well as sprc.org website.

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