Suicides in Minnesota

Let’s reopen an old wound. Why don’t news organizations report suicides and when they do report suicides, how do they decide which ones are worthy?

The question resurfaces after last week’s coverage (including on NewsCut) of the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodermeyer, who took his own life, apparently after being bullied in his first weeks of high school.

Suicide, as I’ve written here plenty of times, is an epidemic, yet we don’t connect the dots with only occasional coverage of a suicide here or there — the slumber party that ended in a suicide pact in Marshall, the suicide in New London that got coverage because a father spoke out about it and because it was the second one in town, or the suicide that is news because of the murder that preceded it.

In Minnesota, the latest statistics say, suicide dropped by 17 from 2008 to 2009. Someone took their own life every 38 hours in the state instead of every 39 hours.

While 15-24 year olds accounted for the most suicides by age group (82), it was only one more than the 50-54 year old age group. But suicides of people in their 50s accounted for 1 of every four suicides.

Today, columnist Tina Dupuy says it’s time for a different approach to covering this:

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.

Dupuy figures the suicide rate in America is probably rising. She speculates that as mental health services are cut, the number will rise. We’ll see. It may not be an important issue outside of the circle of people and families who needed mental health services and the occasional police officer who has to live with killing one who didn’t get them.