Letter: Suicide Story Was Irresponsible
To the Editor:
As a parent and grandparent, I cannot fully sense the pain that a parent and family must feel when a child takes his or her own life. My comments are not directed toward a grieving family and community, but rather toward the irresponsible journalism of the Valley News.
Mental health professionals are taught several basic principles that apply to news reporting about teenagers. The following principles have been echoed by experts such as Charlotte Ross, executive director of the Youth Suicide National Center in Washington, and Dr. Herman Pardes, chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia University.
∎ Teen suicides should never be front-page news.
∎ Instead, emphasize where troubled youth can go for help. The “Betty Ford Effect,” repeating alternative solutions to mental health problems, is the best way to help.
∎ News accounts that allow an at-risk teenager to identify with the victim, like reviewing a victim’s personal life, make it easy for teens looking for models to follow.
∎ Making a teen’s suicide prominent news is providing a youth some “fame” in death that they may not have achieved in life, which may encourage others to follow.
∎ Statements that suggest that the victim is in heaven in a “guardian angel” role actually romanticize the act of suicide and must be avoided.
The Valley News violated every one of these principles in its reporting on June 23. It is the responsibility of journalists to print news responsibly, and in this case, the Valley News failed miserably. I hope that when reporting on highly sensitive topics such as teen suicide in the future, the Valley News shows responsible restraint and consults with experts in the field before going to press.
Teens tend to be highly impulsive and not yet able to clearly visualize all the consequences of their actions. The suicide rate among teens has nearly tripled in the last 50 years.
Would the Valley News consider providing a true public service by using a similar amount of prominent news space with a feature about healthy alternatives to teen suicide?
Licensed Mental Health Counselor