Editorial: Suicide happens. Pretending doesn’t prevent it.
Sometimes people just don’t know what to say when someone dies. It can be even more challenging when the death was a suicide.
News agencies are no different.
We want to be honest and frank about a serious incident. We want to be kind and compassionate about a profound loss. We want to be responsible and proactive about a public problem.
And that is a twisted game of rock, paper, scissors where someone is going to lose.
So sometimes an organization will decide the best path is not to play the game. Unless a suicide involves someone well-known or an unavoidable event, many choose to err on the side of treating it as a private issue and just staying silent. Families often appreciate that.
That made it surprising when Michelle Gibb didn’t keep quiet about her pain.
“Julia Allison Zamora Bond, 18, of Natrona Heights, passed away Sunday, July 21, 2019, at home, after taking her own life.”
It was right there, in the first line of Gibb’s daughter’s obituary.
“I feel strongly that we have to stop making this something to be hidden from,” Gibb told the Tribune-Review.
Suicide is a serious public health problem. The number of people choosing to end their lives has been on the rise for 20 years. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it comes in at No. 11 for cause of death in Pennsylvania. If you’re between the ages of 15 and 34, like Julia Bond, it’s No. 2.
That’s terrifying. And it’s all the scarier that society tries to address it without mentioning it.
If someone dies in a car crash, no one pretends it was something else. If they are killed by cancer, there is no attempt to euphemize it.
Why should mental health be any different?
Suicide is not a shameful secret to be masked by pretense. It is a side effect of so many kinds of mental or physical or emotional pain.
Just like pneumonia could be the cause of death for someone who has struggled for years with diabetes and heart problems, suicide could be the end result of years battling depression, anxiety, addiction, post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, terminal illness and more.
If our society wants to reduce suicide and see more people come through those dark places and walk in the sun again, we need to stop pretending and face our challenges honestly and without shame.
Obituaries like Bond’s and brave but grieving parents like Gibb are a start.