Our opinion: Reader brings to light responsibility of newspapers in dealing with suicide and mental health issues. So here are ways the public can and should respond to troubling indicators.
Last week’s Courier included news of a Freeman High School student’s attempted suicide, how the community and surrounding area has rallied around Ty Balvin and his family, how the school responded in the days following the incident and how Ty’s mom, Tina Sayler, is holding on to hope in difficult times.
The coverage also included a publisher’s column offering perspective on how newspapers respond to tragedy — specifically, how the Courier has — and how unconditional support is vital in times like these.
Last week’s coverage did not, however, address the issue of suicide directly, nor did it provide resources which might be helpful to those dealing with mental health issues and/or suicidal thoughts. That was not the focus of our reporting.
At least one of our readers noticed.
In a Facebook comment responding to how we covered the event — more specifically, how we didn’t — community native Charles Schrag, now living in Washington, took the Courier to task for failing to look at the larger picture.
“I’m disappointed that in an issue with two stories about the recent suicide attempt by a young person the Courier does not once mention mental health directly or provide information for mental health treatment or suicide prevention,” Schrag wrote. “The Courier’s coverage focuses on the tragedy of suicide and the community response, but ignores the fact that it is a preventable event rooted in mental illness. The Courier also should take note that science tells us that suicide is contagious (not communicable like a cold).
“Because of the role media plays in suicide contagion there are established guidelines that can be used by media outlets to cover suicide ethically and prevent contagion,” Schrag continued. “At a minimum, the Courier should be including information about the SD suicide hotline, sdsuicideprevention.org, when covering suicide in such great detail.”
He also included links to two sites that offer a broader perspective — nytimes.com/.../the-science-behind-suicide and reportingonsuicide.org.
His post drew 13 likes.
Schrag’s take is insightful. Suicide is a difficult thing to talk about yet should be addressed in a forum that is as public as a newspaper, and that is precisely Schrag’s point: If ever there was a resource that can be of benefit to somebody reading about something as terrible as a suicide — or, in the case of Ty Balvin, an attempted suicide — the printed word is it.
So consider this hard reality. According to the South Dakota Department of Health:
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in South Dakota and the second leading cause among those ages 15 to 34;
With 192 suicides, South Dakota had the sixth highest suicide rate in the United States in 2017. That breaks down to 22 per 100,000 population in this state versus 14.5 per 100,000 nationally;
There were 168 suicides in South Dakota in 2018. While that’s down from the previous year, it’s up considerably from 2009’s 128;
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 16.1 percent of South Dakota high school students considered suicide in 2015 while 8.4 percent attempted suicide.
So what can we do? For those who are concerned for those who may be showing warning signs, there are ways to help. Simply letting that person know that you are concerned and want to help is a good start. But taking advantage of available resources may be even more important.
Freeman Public Guidance Counselor Josh Faulkner says folks who may be concerned about their own well-being or the well-being of others should visit www.bethe1sd.com or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); this week’s 5-Minute Interview on page 6B includes more insight from Faulkner.
Resources are also available through sdsuicideprevention.org, which notes that “Behavioral health is a key part of a person’s overall health. It is just as important as physical health and includes one’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. Behavioral health conditions include mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders.”
Resources are also available by simply dialing 211, with is a helpline center that lists behavioral health providers from across the state.
This reflect the opinion of publisher Jeremy Waltner and former publisher and contributing editor Tim L. Waltner.