Is Hiding Suicide the Right Answer?

For a voracious reader I have what some would consider an almost subversive habit. I won’t read the “it” book of the moment. The higher it is on the New York Times’ bestseller list, the more recommendations I get, the harder I resist.

So forgive me for being behind the times. I just finished Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. And I’m well aware that he’s already on book number two — the cover arrived in my email inbox from Barnes & Noble this week, making me salivate. But I’m getting off track.

If you’re like me, or one of those people yet to fall prey to the lure of young adult fiction (to which I have to ask . . . what the heck are you waiting for?), a quick summation: a teenage boy opens his mail, and inside is a pile of audiotapes from a classmate who committed suicide two weeks prior. He spends one entire evening listening, following the path that led her to suicide.

It’s already in paperback, there are talks of a movie option, but I finally got around to it this week. And now I understand why people kept talking about it, why it was pushed to the top of the bestseller’s list. Because no one wants to talk about suicide.

I know I don’t. I dream about it. All the time.

Not my own. No, you don’t have to call the men in white suits. But it’s been almost 10 years since a dear friend threw himself off a bridge to stop the voices in his head, and still I see him in my dreams. Sometimes, I think he’s still here, that the dream is the reality. I wake up wondering, is he gone? Did I just dream that schizophrenia sent him running down the viaduct, that the fire alarm went off, that I went running out of the newspaper office in pursuit of a story only to be turned around by firemen who knew that the worst thing I could see was a piece of my childhood, a piece of my heart, splayed out across the pavement? That I fought for my right to not report on what I’d seen? That I broke the tenets of journalism and entered the story? That I refused to tell the world about my dear friend’s suicide?

I wish.

I wish it were a dream. But there it is. I showed up at the scene of my own friend’s suicide, a reporter on the call. You can give me credit for not “knowing” what it was, for just doing my job. But there it is. I was a reporter. At the scene of my friend’s suicide.

And the fight that ensued is one that’s haunted my career. I melted down. I cried. I was anything but the professional as I hid in my office in tears, after I made clear that as long as the police did not mention his name, I was not going to dig.

Morally, I still cling to righteousness. But it’s in reading Asher’s book that the pain resurfaced. Teen suicides, he has a teacher point out in his fictional novel, are the leading killers of kids. And yet, they’re not reported. No one talks about it.

There’s a reason. As a reporter, I tell you, there’s a reason. We do it for the family’s sake. That’s what I thought of that day. They’ve — we’ve — been through enough. There’s no point in dragging it through the papers. And with kids there’s that fear of copycats, of making teens feel like this is a shot at stardom.

But then you read a novel that hits you in the stomach. And it makes you wonder: if we talked about teen suicide more, would it go away? Would parents be better able to stop it? Would society be better informed of the warning signs? It’s the sort of idea that has shaken up everything that I’ve ever known . . . so I’m putting it out there.

Do you think we can fight teen suicide better if we talk about it? Or should the feelings of the family still hold sway? What’s more humane? To protect the people who are mourning or to eradicate this scourge in society?

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  1. My husband's ex involved us directly in her suicide (its extremely complicated). We found her; she wasn't dead but passed away three weeks later in the intensive care ward.I believe it needs to be talked about, in length, in depth, by us all.

  2. I saw this book on another blog about two weeks ago. My 16 year old daughter works at the library, so I asked her to bring it home. I read it in two days, then she read it in two days. I do think it needs to be talked about…but I also think parents need to talk to their kids about how their words and/or actions can affect another person.

  3. As a book blogger as well, I've seen reviews of this book everywhere. I don't read much fiction though and like you, don't necessarily read the bestsellers. I put this book on my mental to read list but in scanning all the reviews, I somehow missed exactly what this book was about. Now I really want to read it. I personally have attempted suicide myself (not anytime recently) and agree it is not talked about enough. I thought this was such a great post I stumbled and tweeted it!

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