Gauging by the low number of suicides reported in the Pilot, it would be easy to conclude that suicide is rare, rather than the widespread and ongoing public health issue that it is.
The Pilot is going to do something that, but first ...
Nationwide, suicide is among the leading causes of preventable death since 2007. The rate has doubled among children ages 10 to 14 years, and the suicide rate among older teenage girls hit a 40-year high in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Oregon ranks 13th nationally in deaths by suicide, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15 to 34, and the third leading cause for ages 10 to 14. Sadly, Curry County leads all Oregon counties in per capita suicides and is third in suicides per capita for ages 10 to 24.
At a recent Suicide Symposium in Brookings, attended by representatives of local law enforcement, health agencies and Pilot Editor Scott Graves, it became clear that more efforts are needed to break the silence and stigma that surrounds suicide.
It’s time to openly talk about suicide so those battling depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts will feel comfortable seeking help.
While newspapers can’t directly help struggling individuals — that’s a job for public health agencies and mental health experts — we can draw attention to mental illness and its impact on our community.
For decades, the Pilot’s policy on reporting suicides was simple:
“In most cases, suicides are personal family tragedies that do not warrant routine coverage. Suicides will be covered only when the victim is a noteworthy person in the community, when the suicide takes place in a public location or in a location where people outside the family have discovered the body or when the suicide raises issues of significant public issues.”
For the Pilot — and most news organizations —the challenge is balancing the public’s right to know with being sensitive to the privacy of individuals and their families.
But times have changed, and so will the way the Pilot reports on suicides. It’s a modest change, but we think it will meet the spirit of our existing policy.
Starting with last Wednesday’s paper, we began listing police responses to suicidal suspects and actual suicides in our law enforcement logs.
The listings include the time, date and general location of the event. They will not list specific details such as a person’s name, exact address or the means by which the suicide attempt was made.
Our policy is not iron-clad — how we cover suicides from now on will depend on the circumstances surrounding each case. And we will always do so with the utmost sensitivity.
Additionally, the Pilot will continue to provide space to mental health advocates who wish to provide our readers with information and resources that could save lives.
The Pilot recognizes that suicide is not an episodic story, but a chronic public health issue with individual and societal implications. We all must do our part to address this issue — and help those in need.