Originally published in The Journal News, Sept. 16, 2015
By Julianne cuba
Colleges, and beyond, must open up about suicide and broaden access to mental health treatment
During one of my first days of journalism school, in an ethics class, I got into a civilized argument with most of my classmates.
We were broken up into small groups and given different “real-life” scenarios, then we had to decide how to report the story.
Most of us acknowledged that it is not the reporter’s responsibility to out someone’s disease, like HIV.
We also agreed that sharing someone’s past and irrelevant criminal record is not appropriate for a story about how, years later, he became a successful, local baseball coach.
But for one of the scenarios, I stood alone: Whether or not to report on a young woman’s suicide.
Most of my classmates believed the information should be kept secret; I firmly said yes, we report on her suicide.
As we would with any other news report, we share her name. We show her personality and talk about her unique qualities and achievements. We share her family members’ and friends’ tributes.
We also share her struggle with mental illness — and because mental illness should be treated as if it were any other disease, we share that she lost her battle.
I fully understand and appreciate that family and close friends have full discretion in how much they share with the media.
But it does need to be addressed, at some point. It needs to be done respectfully, poignantly.
Talk about it
On Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, universities, hospitals, and homes all over the world held vigils, raised awareness, planted flags, and offered support for those who have experienced the loss of suicide. And for those who suffer with mental illness.
Though the World Health Organization reports that 800,000 people worldwide commit suicide each year, in reality, they say, that number is likely higher. Many deaths by suicide remain unreported because there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. People are too afraid to speak up and get help.
It is higher because no one likes to talk about suicide so how can we prevent something that’s not talked about?
To this day, I will read an article about a person’s death, but the reason for their death is omitted.
“No foul play is suspected,” it will read.
Even worse, particularly on college campuses, a suicide will be reported, but not a name.
That is what’s shameful. Not the disease, not the suicide. Reducing a person to their death is what is shameful. By failing to share the name of an individual, we are stripping them of a personality, an identity, even a gender.
The mass media doesn’t struggle with this as much as college campuses do. Universities routinely omit the names of students who have died by suicide. But unfortunately, that is where it is prevalent: the second leading cause of death for young people, age 15-29, is suicide.
Where mental illness is too often overlooked and ignored is where it needs to be addressed the most.
It especially needs to be addressed in the post-graduation atmosphere, where there is no longer a safe close-knit community, where 10 free therapy sessions are no longer an option, and where employers, say they will, but don’t actually hold mental diseases to the same standard as physical ones.
For everyone, going to therapy needs to be easier. It needs to be more accessible. It needs to be cheaper and it needs to be less shameful.
It needs to be easier so that issues aren’t ignored and mental illness doesn’t escalate and manifest itself to become one of the suicides committed every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.
Over the summer, a friend of mine called a counseling center to make an appointment to see a therapist.
They assured they would get back to her in a week; but no one ever did. That is simply not acceptable.
Once a year, World Suicide Prevention Day, is great advocacy and a great day for talking.
But until we can change the way these issues are addressed and talked about on a daily basis, and until we can reduce the stigma they still hold, many individuals will miss out on the crucial help they need.