2018-06-21 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Need to talk about suicide


Phil Foley — Staff Writer Phil Foley — Staff Writer Given the events of last week, it would appear that Dr. Russell Bush’s hopes for a record low suicide rate in Lapeer County have been dashed. Three people decided to end their lives in violent ways, pushing the needle in the other direction.

Predictably, some people insisted that if the newspapers would not say anything, everything would be fine.

Years ago when I was a snot-nose reporter with a damp diploma the tourist community I was working in had a rash of auto burglaries that rapidly developed into a plague. Not a day went by when several locals and visitors came out to find thieves had picked their unlocked vehicles clean.

One day at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, the chamber president stood up and thundered, “We’ve got to do something about this auto burglary thing.” He then went on to propose that the chamber form a committee to sit down with the local media outlets and get them to stop running stories about auto burglaries because continuing to talk about it would scare away tourists.

Even as a youngster I recognized this as insane.

Even if the Chamber could convince every media outlet to pretend nothing was happening, tourists would continue to have their vehicles burglarized; they would go home and tell their friends about the terrible thing that had happened; and eventually the urban legend would take hold that the community was a crime-plagued hell hole.

The right path, I think, was to go to the sheriff and insist on an increased police presence until the thieves were caught.

In the 1970s psychologists coined the term the “Werther effect,” taken from the Goethe novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” to describe copycat suicides. It’s said 18th Century young men began dressing like the novel’s doomed protagonist and shooting themselves when their love lives went south.

Bush noted that after the highly publicized suicide of Nirvana front man Curt Cobain in 1994, instead of a Werther Effect, suicide hotlines saw a spike in calls.

Suicides have been a difficult issue at every newspaper

I’ve ever worked at. It’s unlike any other death and it still carries a huge stigma in many corners.

I’ll admit when I first heard of Anthony Bourdain’s death, my first reaction was anger. I thought, “You selfish schmuck, how could you do that to your kid?” But while I’ve watched his multiple shows for years, I don’t know him, not really. I just see the edited Bourdain being witty and charming.

If you stop talking about suicide, it still keeps happening. If you pretend it’s not a problem, it doesn’t go away.

Betsy Felton with the Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network is right, we need to talk about it more.

It’s like seeing a suspicious package outside your workplace — if you see something say something.

Felton said, “If you ask, they will tell you.”

But if we all stick our heads in the sand, we’ll never know until it’s too late.

This news organization, like many others, tries every day to negotiate a difficult path. Most suicides get the minimal mention in Police Blotter with the barest of details. But, if the mayor decides to do a swan dive off the courthouse tower, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

We’ll continue to do our best to keep the public informed. I hope we all do our best to keep our friends and families safe.

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