Suicide cannot be ignored

Keeping quiet makes it harder for those who suffer to ask for help

In the face of the worst kind of tragedy, the Richardsons did something extraordinary. Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson and his wife have been openly discussing their 14-year-old daughter’s weekend suicide, doing their part to break down the stigma around a harsh reality that affects a great deal of young people.

“The Richardson’s family decision, at perhaps their darkest hour, was such a courageous decision. … Without question, they’ve inspired our community to have a dialogue about this issue that people didn’t want to talk about,” Tim Kluke, president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, told the Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, second only to transport accidents. According to recent data from Statistics Canada, 475 young people killed themselves in 2007. That means that every single day, at least one person’s son or daughter, brother, sister or friend takes their own life.

And still, barely any of us will breathe a word about it, making it even harder for those contemplating the end of their life to share their pain and ask for help.

A police officer once told me that, as a general rule, “the media doesn’t cover suicide.” This is a statement I come back to every time I hear a young person has taken their own life. And I think about the many others whose names won’t appear in the paper because people are too afraid the mere mention of the word suicide will set someone else off, as if someone who is in the depths of despair hasn’t considered this option before reading about it in a newspaper.

I later recounted this conversation with the police officer to a journalism ethics professor. I wondered if there was some unwritten rule that said journalists shouldn’t mention such things. But he said that, as journalists, we have an obligation to report the truth, and that by not keeping record of how and why young people are dying, we are hiding a part of society that is very much in need of exposure.

The willful ignorance of mental health issues in this country is heartbreaking. I can’t help but think that the tragedy of nearly 500 young suicides every year is amplified by the fact that, in their last moments, these young adults lived in a world where they felt abandoned, a world that wouldn’t let them discuss their pain.

In the wake of their daughter’s tragedy, the Richardson’s gave those closest to her, as well as young people across the country, the opportunity to talk about their pain. And it’s a conversation very much worth having.