By on June 30, 2015

DISSTongueSuicide and the veil of secrecy

A pastor friend of mine says this about suicide: “It’s something you can do any day of the week but once you do it, it can’t be undone.” More than once he’s been on the other end of the phone with a person intent on ending his life. He asks them a simple question first, before talking them off a ledge and getting to the root of the problem. “Does it have to be today? Can it wait until tomorrow?”

It’s an effective stalling tactic that removes rash action from the boiling cauldron of emotional depression. In the West, especially, impulsiveness and guns are a toxic mix. Wyoming leads the nation in suicide rate. Always does. It’s not even close. Idaho isn’t much better.

A quick glance at statistics provided by the CDC makes it immediately apparent that people out West kill themselves a lot. Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon are the top eight states in that order. Notice a pattern? Is it the availability of firearms? Maybe. When someone gets shot dead in the United States, it’s much more likely to have happened by their own hand (22,571 gun homicides in 2010 as compared to 34,232 gun suicides). In fact, suicides outpace homicides in the U.S., two to one.

Publishers and TV producers are more than eager to splash murder stories on the covers of their newspapers and lead with them on the six o’clock news. But suicide has always been something journalists have learned can’t be covered. It’s taboo.

This hush-hush veil of secrecy is killing people. Judy Farah penned a piece for HuffPost befitting the stigma titled, “The Media Conundrum of Suicide: Why We Must Cover Them But Why We Can’t.” There is virtually no “sensitive” way to cover suicide as a journalist, and maybe we shouldn’t be trying to be so careful to shield the public from the ugly finality of a hanging, the messiness of a bullet to the brain, the horror of a free-fall jump to concrete.

Does media coverage of self-immolation cause copycat suicides? There is evidence it does. But in this rainbow age when we all feel safe to come out of the closet, why is this dirty little secret still kept locked away? Would we allow pedophiles the same courtesy in the name of being politically correct so as not to rile online bloggers who are vigilantly teetering on the edge of condemnation with a flamethrower?

Planet Jackson Hole caught holy hell when we covered a pair of teen suicides in Teton Valley in 2010. Tight-knit communities like tidiness. They sweep their troubles under a rug and take offense when the harsh light of media coverage reality invades their privacy. Not long after PJH felt the firestorm of fallout from our coverage, the Idaho State Department of Education was awarded a $1.29 million grant to study the teen suicide matter that had reached epidemic proportions in Teton County, Idaho. The district assembled a taskforce and invited state and national mental health experts to counsel students.

At this point, the recent suicide at the Van Vleck House in Jackson is following the standard and lethal protocol. No comment for the press. No names. No details. No answers. It’s a tough spot to be in for youth leaders like Sarah Cavallaro, director of operations at Teton Youth and Family Services. They need to respect the victim’s family. They need to follow the law, which states a juvenile has identity protections.

But at some point, media can play a vital role in suicide prevention. With a careful approach, and the right blend of brutal honesty and reverence for the pain of loss, newspapers like this one might just convince the next bullied kid, the next despondent adolescent with his father’s .45 in his sweaty palm to stop and think, if just for a moment. Does it have to be today?

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255).

DISSTongueLost generation/s

Some asshat beat up a water station at Snow King Ball Park. Wrecked it. There, now you’ve got your 15 minutes of fame.

It’s not even worth writing about it other than to point out that it isn’t merely about a water filling station getting vandalized by some testosterone-swollen punk (Yes, we’re making the “giant” assumption this was the work of a male. Women are just too intelligent for this kind of nonsense). This is a continuation of a societal shift away from accountability.

Psychologists can study this till the cows come home. They can term it “deindividuation” or “social cognition malfunction.” We can blame it on the Internet. Social media allows us to hide behind our avatars – it’s those little bastard icons that are the true evil within us.

Integrity, character, virtue – these are words from the past. Where does the buck stop now? Where are the men who don’t walk out on their families? John Wayne has been replaced by Chris Brown. Miley Cyrus is the new role model for young ladies. Is it a wonder we are becoming a society in love with ourselves? We feel entitled. We want it all and we want it now. The ends justify the means.

Whether it’s this fool who demolished a water station, or a poacher who shoots up an elk herd for kicks, or the next delinquent to walk into a school or a church with a loaded weapon – we’ve lost touch with reality.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself – or anything else.

About Jake Nichols

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