Reporting on tragedy

Choices about news content are never as difficult as when a young person dies by his or her own hand.

It is generally the policy of this newspaper not to report suicides of most citizens. We report on the death of individuals when we receive obituaries from families. An editorial decision is made on a case-by-case basis if a death is the result of a police action or an accident.

The loss of this promising teenager has greatly affected this small community. We cannot ignore the fact that it happened. The death of this young man, a key member of the school marching band, a treasured friend to many, has left fellow students devastated and the community sad and afraid. We cannot guess at the pain of his family.

The high school rallied the day the death was announced, sending in extra counselors. Parents, teachers and professionals flocked to the school according to plans already in place to deal with such a tragedy. Students met with their peer advisory groups, called Bridges, to talk openly about what happened. Students planned and carried out a respectful and appropriate memorial at the school in the evening that was filled with tears, reminiscences, song and laughter for their friend and classmate.

Psychologists and mental health experts warn against publicizing or glamorizing a death from suicide for fear that others may copycat. It is suspected that teenagers and young adults are more vulnerable to the phenomenon of ``contagion'' than other age groups. This creates a huge dilemma for a newspaper: How do we inform readers about an important tragedy while ensuring that coverage of such a death does not encourage other attempts at self-harm?

Two people every week between the age of 14 and 21 die by suicide each week in our state, according to the Washington Youth Suicide Prevention Program. Because of these sobering numbers, it would be egregious to let the moment pass without emphasizing the need of everyone to reach out to those at risk. But, it is not our wish to make this young person a statistic about teen depression.

Suicide is something we must talk about again and again. We must renew our efforts to reconnect with everyone. We as a community must acknowledge this pain, honor the memory of a talented and sensitive student and renew efforts to help anyone struggling with stress or depression. We must look after one another.

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