Ernest Hemingway. Kurt Cobain. Marilyn Monroe. Vincent VanGogh. Sigmund Freud. Spalding Grey. Frida Kahlo. Shakir Stewart (Def Jam). Cleopatra. Junior Seau. Roy Raymond (founder, Victoria’s Secret). Socrates. Sylvia Plath. Hunter S. Thompson. L’Wren Scott. Virginia Woolf. Abbie Hoffman. David Carradine. Wendy O. Williams. Mary Kay Bergman (SouthPark voices) Robert Enke (soccer).
These are the suicides you hear about in the media. Because of their accomplishments and talent, their suicides supercede the hushed rule in newsrooms throughout the land: We don’t cover suicides unless it’s someone famous or caused a public spectacle.
Why, you ask, when journalists are so damn ruthless about ferreting out and publicizing the most private and embarrassing moments of other people’s lives do they not cover suicides? Publicly, editors will tell you that they do it out of respect for the families and loved ones of those who commit suicide. You can decide whether you want to believe that.
Here is the problem with that logic: It covers up the prevalence of suicide and mental illness. For every celebrity who commits suicide, there are countless others who have suffered just as much and took their lives, too.
For example, in 2012 there were 205 suicides in Palm Beach County, where I live. At the local newspaper, where I work, we covered two: a murder/suicide and a teenager who shot himself on a bench near his exclusive, private school.
As a reporter I have had to interview the parents, husbands, wives, children and friends of murder and accident victims. It’s not easy and most of the time they don’t want their loved one or themselves in the news. I get that. I respect that.
The last thing I want to do is call the parents of a teenager who hung herself or stepped in front of a train. But are we doing ourselves a disservice by not covering suicides? Are we stigmatizing suicide and mental illness even more by keeping it off the evening news unless the person is a celebrity?
We often write about people who die of breast cancer. Occasionally we report that someone died of AIDS. But people who are …
I have a soft, mushy spot in my heart for dogs, military vets and and people with mental illnesses and brain injuries. So, when I went to the AOL home page to retrieve my email and saw a photo of a young man with his arm around a dog and this headline – “Airline Staff Allegedly Abused Veteran” – I had to click.
In the story, Jim Stanek, a disabled vet who served three tours in Iraq and now has PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) describes how he and his service dog Sarge were treated by United Airlines.
It is one of those flight-gone-bad stories that makes you want to escort the boards of directors at all the major airlines onto a plane, seat them in coach, close the doors, disable the bathrooms and leave them on the tarmac for eight hours with only peanuts, pretzels and water.
Stanek was trying to get back to his home in New Mexico after a fundraising event for Paws for Stripes, an organization he co-founded which provides service dogs for vets with PTSD and TBI. He got stuck in Dulles International Airport for a couple of frustrating days – flights cancelled, re-scheduled, cancelled, re-scheduled and on and on. It sounds like the kind of experience that would have driven the Dalai Lama to cursing.
On the suicide front, there was some really bad news and a shred of good news on the front page of my local newspaper last week. The bad news: 154 active duty, American troops killed themselves during the first 155 days of this year. That’s nearly one suicide every day. What this means is that more troops are dying of suicide than bullets or IEDs.
The shred of good news is that this story ran on the front page of our local newspaper – above the fold. Even Aljazeera ran it as the lead story on its homepage. Unfortunately, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times did not run the story on their front pages.
But at least some editors around the country thought it was important enough news to get on the front page. Which is really good news.
Newspapers generally don’t cover suicides unless the suicide has inconvenienced our lives, has a high rubber-necking score or you are famous. I know this is morbid, but I have been a journalist for 30 years and I know about these things.
For example, if someone jumps from a highway overpass during rush hour causing a massive traffic jam – that is news. Or person shoots himself at the local shopping mall – that’s news. When famed NFL linebacker Junior Seau puts a gun to his chest and pulls the trigger – that’s news.
Ever had one of those moments where you realize you are not as enlightened as you thought you were?
I had one Sunday morning, reading a front page story in The New York Times, Need Therapy? A good man is hard to find. Seems the number of male therapists is dwindling. Only 10 percent of the members of the American Counseling Association are men, down from 30 percent in 1982. “Some college psychology programs cannot even attract male applicants, much less students,” according to the article.
“The result, many therapists argue, is that the profession is at risk of losing its appeal for a large group of sufferers – most of them men – who would like to receive therapy but prefer to start with a male therapist.”
The bitchy little feminist in me says, “na-na-na-na-boo-boo. Now you know what it’s like for us to go to male gynecologists!” But in this battle, that kind of thinking is fatal. Of the four people I have known who committed suicide in the last five years, all were men.
One of my girlfriends called last night and left a message. I played it this morning. Her boyfriend killed himself. He was such a great guy. Probably one of the kindest, gentlest men I had ever known and equally manly – a commercial fisherman.
He was only in his 40s but his rheumatoid arthritis had gotten really bad over the last few years. He had an ankle replacement and picked up one of those horrible infections in the hospital that nearly killed him.
He was in constant pain. Unrelenting pain – non-stop fuel for depression. He didn’t bring it up unless you asked but you would see it in his face and the tightness of the muscles in his back and shoulders. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t do any of the activities he loved to do. My girlfriend, a saint, became the sole provider. It was hard on her. It was hard on him. Throughout it all there was the physical pain. He hated taking the pain medication but without it, the pain was too much.
I won’t go into the details but he was thoughtful to the end, leaving a note and doing “it” far from their home.
The last time I checked, my head was still attached to my body. Yours is probably, too. So is Kenneth Feinberg’s, which is why I do not understand why Mr. Feinberg, the oil spill claims czar, has decided to pay claims for “physical” health problems but not “mental” health problems.
“Mental” health problems are conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. They are conditions and illnesses that involve our brains – and the last time I checked, mine was still in my head and attached to the rest of me.
So, how can a health problem that involves my brain NOT be a “physical” health problem? If my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin they way it should, it is a “physical” health problem. If my brain doesn’t produce “serotonin” the way it should, it is a “mental” health problem. It is all happening in my body – so why the distinction between “physical” and “mental?”
Amen. Hallelujah. God bless America.
Health care passed.
I am one of the few taxpayers who does not care how much I must pay in taxes to guarantee that everyone in this country — and I mean everyone — receives the medical care they need when they are hurt or sick.
To me, this is not a political battle. It is common sense. We take care of each other. When someone is hurt, sick or in pain, you help them. That’s how I was raised. My mother called it The Golden Rule: “Do unto other as you would have them to unto you.” It is that simple.
We had another murder here last week. Actually, it was three murders and an attempted suicide. According to news reports:
What friends, family and authorities do say is that it appears that as Neal Jacobson sank deeper and deeper into depression, something terrible was building inside him.
The once successful mortgage broker from New Jersey left his company and moved to Florida to care for his ailing father, who died in 2007. Jacobson, 49, lost money in bad investments and hated himself despite his beautiful wife and brilliant twin sons, he confided in his best friend, Richard Norton.
When Norton died of cancer this month, it pushed him farther off his axis, said Norton’s wife, Laurie.
Less than a week after his friend’s funeral, Jacobson took up a gun and shot and killed his wife, Franki, 53, and 7-year-old boys, Eric and Joshua, according to a family member and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s investigators.
After killing his family – just hours before the twin boys’ seventh birthday party – Jacobson took 10 Xanax tablets and a gun and drove away. He go into an accident. Police asked what happened:
“I went off the deep end,” he said, according to the police affidavit.
I have a lot of questions. Most start with “why didn’t he…”
go to a doctor or psychologist?
voluntarily commit himself for observation?
call a suicide hotline?
call a pastor/priest/rabbi?
talk about his feelings?
ask for help?
I understand wanting to kill yourself. I have been at that place and it is a very, very real place – even though today it seems like a dream. But I do not understand the kind of depression and desperation that would drive a person to kill their own child. It must be some kind of excruciating, horrific, mental anguish that is beyond comprehension.
I feel terrible for men with depression and anxiety. It is not just the stigma of mental illness that they face. It is also the ridiculous stereotypes we hold about men – they are strong and do not need help. Men provide and protect. Men …
I was a panelist last Friday on the BBC radio program called World Have Your Say. The title of the program was Should You Make Your Mental Illness Public? Debates like this are being held throughout Europe as the continent mourns the suicide of Robert Enke, the beloved German soccer player and young husband and father. Enke kept his illness from everyone but his wife. And now we are asking ourselves all kinds of questions about how mental illness should be handled in public. But our panel discussion strayed to whether employers should be allowed to ask and employees be required to tell employers about their mental illness.
I used the word “abhorrent” to describe the idea. Where would it stop? Would bosses be allowed to ask about other medical conditions, such as AIDS? In a way it is not really an issue. If an employer really wants to know whether a job candidate or employee is being treated for a mental illness, just do a drug test. Most workers believe they are being tested for marijuana and opiates. But there are employment drug tests that screen for a smorgasbord of drugs, including antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
The civil libertarian in me want to stamp her feet and claim invasion of privacy. But I understand why employers want to know. Depression is the number one workplace disability in the United States. Overall, mental illness costs employers an estimated $140 billion a year in disability, lost wages and productivity. There is also the “Ola Nolen” factor. I covered Ola Nolen’s murder trial back when I was a beat reporter. Ola – a sweet-looking grandmother – had thrown gasoline on a coworker and tossed a match on her because she believed the woman had stolen the $1 million check that John F. Kennedy had given Ola to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ola had paranoid schizophrenia. Would Ola’s horribly burned coworker be alive today if Ola’s employer knew she was mentally ill? We don’t know.
Last week a gunman in Orlando walked into the engineering firm that laid him off last year and opened fire. One man was killed and …
Robert Enke, the beloved goalkeeper for the German national soccer team, stepped in front of a train on Tuesday. Enke, 32, was at the height of his career – expected to be the German team’s goalkeeper in the 2010 World Cup. He and his wife Teresa had adopted a daughter, Leila, earlier this year. Leila is 18 months old. Three years ago the couple’s 2-year-daughter, Lara, died of a heart condition.
Enke had battled battled depression for six years but feared that if his depression became public they would lose Leila, his widow said.
“We had Lara; we have Leila. I always wanted to help him to get through it,” she told reporters. “He didn’t want it to come out because of fear. He was scared of losing Leila.”
Sit down, close your eyes and imagine – if you can – what it would feel like if you suffered from a reviled illness and believed that your child would be taken from you if word of your illness got out. People with cancer or heart disease or diabetes do not have these worries. They can focus on getting well. But not people with mental illnesses. Those of us with mental illness have to worry about losing our friends, family and job – not to mention insurance – if our alcoholism, depression, bipolar or schizophrenia etc. becomes public.
Regardless of whether you are a soccer fan, we can honor Enke’s memory by speaking up and out. Loud. Anytime you hear anyone poke fun at the mentally ill, doubt their suffering or joke about their medication, chime in, interrupt and defend Enke’s despair. It was horribly real. Make a statement when you see an antidepressant ad on television, listen to Nirvana or read about Anna Nicole. The stigma is not going to go away on its own.
Unfortunately Enke believed that he had to choose between getting well and losing his daughter or staying sick and keeping his family together. Sadly, he got it backward. By staying sick his daughter lost her father.
God rest …