The difficult news came in to The Beachcomber office on Saturday: An islander in his early 20s had ended his life the night before. In a year when too many of the island’s young people have died, it is yet another enormous loss. And for his loved ones, we imagine it is painful beyond measure.
In the time since learning this news, we have thought a great deal about how we, as the community newspaper, should respond both to this man’s death and to the larger issue of suicide, which takes the lives of 30,000 people in this country annually and has claimed three young islanders in less than a year — and possibly others as well.
Our longstanding policy is to not report incidents of suicide. In fact, it is unusual for us to report stories when people die from any cause unless something about that person’s death puts him or her in the spotlight. Perhaps the person was a high school student; maybe there was an extensive search or a tragic accident or the person had a high profile in the community.
Additionally, newspapers need to be particularly careful because some studies have found that covering suicide can lead to “suicide contagion” and lead to further tragedy.
At the same time, we understand that suicide is a public health issue — and as an issue, it warrants coverage, and we intend to do our part to bring light to the difficult subject.
Just recently, several King County experts convened and are calling for action to prevent suicides among teenagers after a high number of youth suicides in the county in 2012. Their plan includes increasing public awareness about the warning signs of suicide and making improvements in the mental health system and services, including in schools. Their plan also calls for more education for families and communities about safe firearm storage and to advocate for safe firearm storage legislation. We plan to report more about that effort in the coming weeks.
At Vashon Youth & Family Services, Executive Director Kathleen Johnson spoke to the difficult year the island has faced and stressed that professionals there are trained and ready to help those who need it. VYFS accepts many types of insurance and Medicaid and offers a sliding scale as well.
Johnson also noted that people struggle differently, solutions vary and all that we can do is look after one another, care for one another and call upon available resources when necessary. We think that sounds like good advice.
And for now, regarding this most recent tragedy, we are leaving the story of this young man’s life to those who knew and loved him best. And we, like many of you, will hold his family and friends in our thoughts and hearts in their difficult days ahead.