When deciding what articles to pursue, I often look to compelling statistics to find the story. And the following statistics shocked me. In 2010, there were 1,182 deaths by suicide among those ages 15 to 18; that number jumped to 1,458 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two years ago, a CDC survey found that nearly 18 percent of high school students had seriously considered suicide in the previous twelve months. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people and it’s hit the area where I live hard. During the past academic year, our small community lost three young people to suicide. It would be easier to feel the sorrow and not probe this sensitive topic. It would be easier not to pester the grieving parents and have to ask them to relive the memories of their loved one. In other words, it would be easier to shy away from covering suicides. But avoiding the topic altogether has not proven helpful. Research shows that writing about teen suicide does not encourage more teens to take their lives. In fact, the data argues that awareness of the problem can lead to solutions and outreach and providing the help that our young people so desperately need. So I wrote my third article on the topic, this time for The Ann Arbor Observer. (I previously wrote an article for Good Housekeeping and another for The Michigan Alumnus. ) I’m grateful that the Roberts family understands the importance of spreading awareness on teen suicide and so bravely sat down with me to reminisce about their precious son. The reaction from the community to the piece has been extremely positive. Those who have been hit hard by suicides of young people all seem to realize that discussing this — not sweeping it under the rug as if it never happened — is key in addressing this epidemic. I hope there will be inroads and that I won’t have to write about this painful subject any time soon. But if there is another tragedy, I will not hesitate to confront the topic again. It’s something that any responsible member of the media should do.
In all the years I have been a journalist, the hardest interview I had to conduct was with a mother who had just lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide less than a week before we spoke. As the mother of young adults, I could feel her pain as she sobbed into the phone, having to relive the horrific tragedy as she shared the intimate details of her daughter’s struggles. When tragedy strikes, journalists are often first on the scene. And it’s difficult to understand how we choose to pry into people’s private lives. But Cathy Housh, the mother of the teen, didn’t hesitate to speak with me. She realized that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about suicide and that getting this subject out into the open will ultimately help to save lives. In fact, she’s made it her mission to push for legislation that will create programs to prevent it. I knew that reporting about teen suicide would be a tough sell for a woman’s magazine. And I applaud Good Housekeeping for running my article, in the April, 2016 issue. But it was a long journey, one that started when I turned in the first draft one-and-a-half years ago. Advertisers, the major source of revenue for magazines, typically don’t like to wrap their ads around an article focused on such a dark issue. Instead of the article being highlighted in the editor’s column as I hoped it would be, it was buried at the end of the magazine, surrounded by an ad for Clump and Seal cat litter and a promotion for heart medication. It would be ideal if the women’s magazines would give these kinds of meaty topics a higher profile. Still, it’s a start. And I feel gratified that my piece ran in a publication with a circulation of 24-million. It may be enough to get the word out about a tragedy that is becoming far too common among our teens.