In 2018, more than 800 people in Oregon died by suicide. While suicide is the second-leading cause of death among our young people (ages 10-24), Oregon’s highest rate of suicide is actually among men age 85 and older.
Bottom line? Suicide is a problem that cuts a large swath through our youngest and brightest to oldest and wisest. It isn’t limited to a particular set of circumstances, financial status, blue collar or white collar, urban or rural, male or female.
There is, however, one common thread that runs through the sad and growing tapestry woven by victims of suicide: It’s the fact that we rarely talk about it.
While we champion and openly support those battling life-threatening diseases whose physical impacts are apparent to the eye, we struggle to discuss the less apparent yet equally life-threatening battle that many face each day living in the shadow of depression, despair, personal loss, bullying, drug addiction and psychosis.
That’s because talking about feelings of suicide is taboo. It’s associated with being weak or overly dramatic, or simply isn’t taken seriously. It’s not acceptable to discuss it openly and, as a result, people often suffer with thoughts of suicide silently – planning death without anyone ever knowing until it’s too late.
Over the years, the media has played its own role in perpetuating those notions by not reporting on suicides except in rare circumstances, such as involving a public official or suicide within a public place. The thought has been that reporting on suicides can create a ”contagion effect,” as well as cause additional trauma to surviving family members. Good reasons to be sure, except that current research indicates that thoughtful reporting can actually help prevent suicides by creating an atmosphere supportive of the kind of dialogue needed to end suicide’s deafening silence.
During the week of April 7-14, all Oregon newsrooms have been invited to join in covering this issue through a statewide reporting project called ”Breaking the Silence: Shining a Light on Oregon’s Suicide Crisis.” During that week, media outlets throughout Oregon will be contributing stories, data and insights to this project, which will be shared and made available through the Portland-based nonprofit Line for Life.
But we’ve decided to do something more.
In a one-of-a-kind collaborative, we are teaming up with three other newsrooms within our region – The Creswell Chronicle, Cottage Grove Sentinel, Siuslaw News and Newport News-Times- in an effort to combine our resources in covering four specific areas on the topic of suicide. The idea behind this special collaboration is simple: As smaller community newspapers, we can accomplish more together than we could ever hope to accomplish alone. Not just in terms of the scope of our reporting but also in the number of readers who can benefit from that reporting.
Sometimes the competitiveness of journalism should take a back seat to the true purpose of journalism: To inform, educate and inspire thoughtful discussion.
To that end, each Wednesday in April, our newsrooms will each contribute a different piece that will be shared among the four community newspapers in our collaboration for that week. Topics will include:
• April 3: Suicide among school-aged children and teens (Contributed by Cottage Grove Sentinel)
• April 10: Suicides among the homelessness and mentally ill (Contributed by Newport News-Times)
• April 17: Suicide among senior citizens and veterans (Contributed by Siuslaw News)
• April 24: Those left behind: Parents, children and spouses of suicide victims (Contributed by The Creswell Chronicle)
Experts say the best way to prevent suicide is by being aware of the warning signs and encouraging someone we suspect might be contemplating suicide to talk about it. And contrary to past practices within the media, studies show that people do not start thinking about suicide just because someone asks them about it.
Our hope is that this unique collaboration will send a different message than we have in the past, opening a discussion within each of our communities that will turn the perpetual silence of suicide into the sound of hopeful and helpful dialogue.
Erin Tierney, editor at The Creswell Chronicle, Ned Hickson, editor at Siuslaw News and Cottage Grove Sentinel, Bret Yager, managing editor at Newport News-Times