There are about 33,000 suicides in the United States every year.
There are about 18,000 homicides in the United States every year.
Now, ask yourself this: If there are nearly twice as many suicides than homicides, how come I don’t hear about more suicides in the news?
Because the media doesn’t think it’s appropriate to cover suicides. We don’t want to cause any more anguish to the friends and family of people who kill themselves. (Imagine that, the media is concerned about causing anguish!)
That’s the unspoken rule in newsrooms across the land – suicide is personal and private and covering it would cause more pain. Unless the person who killed herself is famous, there is no news value. But homicide is fair game. Doesn’t matter how obscure you are. If you’re dead and somebody killed you – it’s news.
Which is why the cover story in the New York Times’ Sunday Styles section yesterday, the Mysteries of Tobias Wong, is such a big deal. It is about the suicide of Tobias Wong, a brilliant young designer in New York city.
This is a thoughtful, carefully written story that balances the man with his suicide. For those of us who live in the realm of Rooms-to-Go, the author, Alex Williams explains why Wong’s work was important. Wong was “deeply influenced by subversive art…and went on to produce an acclaimed and influential body of work that questioned concepts like luxury and consumerism in a business that was about promoting them.”
Wong hanged himself. Most authors would have left it at that. Like so many men who kill themselves, no one saw it coming: “This was no tortured artist locked in a downward spiral…he had no history of mental illness, no health problems and no substance abuse issues…unlike many Manhattanites, he wasn’t even seeing a therapist.”
The second half of this lengthy story delves into the pathology of Wong’s suicide. “Mr. Wong was, clinically speaking, asleep. For years, he had suffered from a variety of sleep disorders known as parasomnias: in layman’s terms, he was a serious, chronic sleepwaker.”
We then learn about the bizarre world of sleepwalkers, night terrors and the odd behavior that fill the hours that should be spent in deep sleep. Wong’s own episodes and his battle to conquer his sleep disorder are punctuated with comments from experts about the disorder.
“Given this history, many people who were close to him believe that his death was not an act of will, but, like other sleepwalking episodes, a bizarre out-of-character act that ended tragically.”
Why is this article a big deal? Because the New York Times has published no less than four other articles about suicide in the last month: “In Midlife boomers are happy and suicidal” on June 11; “New leader of DDB must bring luster back” on June 10; “After suicide, scrutiny of China’s grim factories” on June 6; and “Rise of suicides in middled aged is continuing” also on June 6.
Countless newspapers around the world subscribe to the New York Times wire service. Subscribers are allowed to reprint articles in their own newspapers. At a time when newspaper staffs around the country have been slashed, the wires play an even more important role, providing readers with feature stories and editorials that might not have been picked up in the days when newspapers had the staff to write their own stories, features and editorials.
This is how the stigma of suicide will be eliminated: One article at a time. Talking about suicide is not enough. Much of the talk is either gossip or too touchy for an in-depth conversation. But when a newspapers such as The New York Times decides that suicide is “fit to print,” then it becomes news.
And God knows we can’t seem to get enough news.
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From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (June 28, 2010)
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Best of Our Blogs: June 29, 2010 | World of Psychology (June 29, 2010)
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Media’s coverage of suicide, 2008 statistics « Compeer Rochester (July 16, 2010)
Last reviewed: 28 Jun 2010