I am on a plane, flying to Washington, DC. For the next three days I will be immersed in suicide – specifically, how the media covers suicide and mental health.
The seminar is being sponsored by The Poynter Institute, the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a journalist, this is a topic that is especially dear to me: I know people who have killed themselves, I’ve attempted twice and in the newsroom, suicide is a touchy editorial issue.
I sit near the police scanner. Every day there are numerous suicide calls. They are automated. A Siri-esque woman with a choppy monotone announces the call: “Rescue 2, attempted suicide, 1234 Main Street.”
We only write about suicides if the suicide is a public spectacle – someone jumping off an overpass and closing the interstate, causing a massive traffic jam – or if there is a suicide cluster – a group of teens kill themselves by allowing a train to run over them or the victim was famous, such as Robin Williams.
There are countless suicides and attempted suicides that you never hear about. Are they news? Should they be news? We write about teenagers who kill themselves in drunken driving accidents but we don’t write about a teenager who kills herself.
Why? Are we contributing to the stigma that plagues mental illness by not doing so? I believe, unwittingly we are. Allegedly we do this to protect grieving loved ones. More often you hear, “it just isn’t news.”
But is it?
As a journalist, this is a unique opportunity for me. With deadlines constantly over our head, we rarely get a chance to sit down, think, breathe and exchange ideas about how the media covers suicide and mental health. These decisions are usually made with haste and are forgotten by the next news cycle.
I will be tweeting and blogging for the next few days and would love to get your take on this issue. Our hashtag is #suicidereporting