We were all children once. Many of us, if we reach back into our truest memories, can remember the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and impulsiveness that plagued us, that seemed to run side-by-side with the vulnerability, sensitivity and cruelty of the age.
We get older, and gain some insight into how time can heal us with perspective, and can easier see the value in dealing with our problems, albeit difficult.
The news media, and our newsroom, is going through the same process when it comes covering suicide in general, and specifically, in covering the suicide deaths of three Kingsley schoolchildren in the last eight months.
Time and study has taught us that vulnerable people may seek validation for suicidal impulses in media coverage.
Research published this summer in the Canadian Medical Association Journal said that media coverage that focuses on detailed descriptions about the methods of suicide, or glamorizing no-way-out fatalism, especially as it relates to celebrity deaths like the recent suicides of Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, can have a contagious effect on those in pain.
We follow best practices set out by the experts; we scrutinize our stories for tone and the words we choose, we are careful about details, we are sensitive to the shock, grief and trauma suffered by the family, friends and our community at large.
Informing people about suicide is also one of those best practices.
Knowing causes us to look harder at ourselves, our kids and the others around us, to educate ourselves on prevention and knowing what red flags look like, to prompt frank conversations and reaching out our hands and hearts in help at all levels.
Because studies have also shown that the media’s messages of hope, and of help, can also prevent future suicides. That casting a critical eye on how we as a society tackle this health problem that results in avoidable death can result in positive steps taken down the road.
What Kingsley Schools is suffering through now is a pain we share. We cannot imagine the horror, the questions and the hole left by these losses of life, before these children have had a real chance to live.
It’s cold comfort to know that suicide is something even the experts don’t fully understand. A 2018 article in Frontiers in Psychiatry points this out, and also describes it as a complex interplay of factors of neurobiology, personal and familial history, stressful events and sociocultural environment. Efforts to use these factors to predict it also fall short; a study of 4,800 veteran patients assessed for suicide risk flagged less than half of the patients who died by suicide.
But we also know that there are things we can do to help. We can listen to the people in our lives with respect and empathy, and deliver messages of hope. We can look for signs of acting out, or withdrawing, of depression, of self-harming behavior. We can ask the question: Are you thinking about suicide?
And we can also ask ourselves, are we doing enough to help?
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s a free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information, and local resources.