Musician and actor Jackson O'Dell died by his own hand today. He was just 20 years old, and in love (the image above is from his Twitter feed).
I am not an expert on suicide and depression. However I do know that people who are at the end of themselves, and their hope has dwindled to a flicker, derive some sense of relief when they see and read about celebrities, with all the trappings of success, who have exited their lives by their own hands.
Now, before I go any further, let me say this: if you are experiencing depression and thoughts of suicide, please, I urge you, get the help that is available. The Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 is a good first step. They will listen to you and talk with you as long as you need. Speak to a medical professional who can help diagnose and treat your condition. Continue reaching out, whether it be a spouse, significant other, parent, sibling, close friend, your church, or whatever community you belong to. There are people who care about you, who love you, and who will walk on this journey with you. Your life is precious and worth living. Things are not okay now, but as long as you keep going, they can be okay.
In 2008, the World Health Organization concluded: "Vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviours by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist and/or explicitly describes the method of suicide."
In the U.K., BBC guidelines promote sensitivity in the reporting of suicides. Perhaps American media might take a lesson here, and apply it. It would be better if these events didn't make the headlines, other than to report that a celebrity has died. Yes, the assumption of suicide might hang around--and of course, it's news when someone like Anthony Bourdain is found dead. But we don't need to know how or why, at least not until the sensational headline has passed out of the news cycle.
Maybe a 48-hour, or even a one or two-week silence period on how certain celebrities died would be a good policy. Is it really in the public interest to know if it was an unintentional drug overdose, a ruptured spleen, a heart attack, stroke, or brain aneurysm versus a suicide? It might be news, but it's not pressing, immediate headline news.
To people struggling with their own depression and hopelessness, knowing versus not knowing could be the difference between living to face tomorrow, or not. And tomorrow is always waiting, with new promise. Every day can be the day when things get better. Sometimes, it's better to not know.