19 August 2007

Sensationalizing Suicide

Suicide's back in the news. Do you think Greg Mitchell has ever read anything from the Dart Center or American Foundation for Suicide Prevention about covering suicide? Either he hasn't and ignorantly writes about suicide, or he has and callously writes about suicide.

Armed Liberal crunches the numbers and finds ... surprise!! ... military suicides are below the civilian population rates.

Over at Target Rich Environment ... "the civilian suicide rate likely exceeds the 2006 US Army suicide rate (adjusted for demographics)."

I can't remember ever reading a news report on military suicides worth the time spent.

After Desert Storm, 15 years ago, it was studied:

By the close of FY 1992, sixty-four active duty soldiers had committed suicide, a reduction of twelve from FY 1991. Even allowing for later adjustments due to changes in the originally reported cause of death, the number of active duty suicides in the 1992 calendar year was 87, compared to 102 for 1991. The ratio of suicides per 100,000 soldiers was 14.5 for 1992, a slight decrease from the 14.6 rate in 1991. By way of comparison, the civilian suicide rate for roughly the same age group (20-34) was 22-25/100,000. Psychological autopsies of soldier suicides did not indicate that downsizing or changes in policy played any role in their motivations. Psychologists still attributed suicides, in large part, to failures in personal relationships, alcohol abuse, and financial difficulties.
In Haiti, more than 10 years ago, the media made suicide a big issue. It wasn't.

It was raised as an issue again during the 90s "peace operations".

It's been raised frequently now during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Ever wonder why you don't read frequent stories in the news about suicide among the "creative people":
  • The Literary Arts
    Recent studies have shown that poets and writers are four times more likely than others to suffer from affective disorders, particularly manic depression. Dickinson, Eliot, and Poe are among the many poets who suffered from an affective illness. Writers such as Balzac, Conrad, Dickens, Emerson, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Ibsen, Melville, and Tolstoy also suffered from the illness. In many cases, the writer's depression led to suicide: John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

  • The Visual Arts
    Painters, sculptors, and other visual artists have also been afflicted by depressive disorders. Gaugin, Jackson Pollock, Michelangelo, and Georgia O'Keeffe suffered from depression. Van Gogh, Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko died by suicide. Contemporary designers are plagued by alcohol and drug abuse, which are associated with depression.

  • The Musical Arts
    The death of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain brought the issue of suicide into the spotlight. But the problem was not new to the music world. Classical composers such as Rachmaninoff, Schumann and Tchaikovsky suffered from affective disorders. Irving Berlin, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Cole Porter also suffered from depressive illnesses.

  • The Theatrical Arts
    For many performing artists, the link between depression and suicide has been complicated by the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. For actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, it remains unclear whether the cause of death was accidental overdose or suicide. Also, the tendency toward depression and suicide often shows up in the children of these performers, suggesting a familial link.
I guess it's because Greg Mitchell doesn't find their suicides "especially tragic" or maybe it's because "the press doesn't know what to do about them."

UPDATE (via Insty): More at OTB and View from the Porch.

UPDATE: kf asks, "Who Has to Try to Kill Themselves in this Town to Make the Front Page?"

UPDATE: Sensationalizing Suicide II

Related: Two Suicides, Two Newsrooms, Two Decisions

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