Sunday, June 22, 2008

Talking About Indian Suicide Doesn't Cause It

One of the myths that is quickly overturned in any good suicide prevention program is that "talking about suicide causes suicide." I repeat, that's a myth.

Indeed, the suicide individual, whether youth or elderly, is literally dying to have someone talk to them about their pain and their thoughts of suicide. It is already "inside" of them.

People want to live, and yet infrequently feel the "only way out" of their pain is by dying. The copycat factor comes into play to reinforce the notion that it is the only option open, when it is presented specifically, repeatedly, and impersonally by the media, without protective factors.

Unfortunately, in a new article, "Suicide Sensitivity" by Rob Capriccioso, in Indian Times for June 18, 2008, the wrong message seems to have taken hold among my Rosebud Sioux brothers and sisters - or so seems the case from the reporter's story.

First of all, Capriccioso breaks every rule in terms of media guidelines for writing about suicide when he pens this sentence: "And the tribe's own law enforcement officials have kept track of several recent cases where suicide attempts within the reservation's small population have been successful. "

Suicides are not "successful," in the same way we want our youth to "succeed" in sports, school, work, and relationships. It has been shown that modeling behavior through writing that suicides have a "successful" goal is the incorrect signal to young people, especially among males who make up 4 out of 5 of the deaths by suicides. This tells me Capriccioso might be the source of what comes next, not the Indians.

Caprisccioso writes:

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is still reeling from the devastating effects of suicide; and some tribal leaders, fearful of the situation, are doing their best to reflect inward regarding tribal and federal efforts in dealing with the outbreak...

In some respects, members of the tribe said, all of the attention on suicide has actually glorified the act for some. Many young people are hurting inside, and they're desperately seeking attention - even if that attention comes in the form of an emergency response to a drug overdose or a slit to the wrist.

''We need to strengthen our young people's feelings about themselves, as well as their connections with their parents,'' Black Bear said, noting that her task force's motto is ''Stop, think, honor, and celebrate your life.'' One of the videos that she regularly shows to youth notes that suicide is not a video game. ''We want them to know you won't be able to press play and start again.''

Tribal leaders are weary of the increased visibility of suicide on the reservation, and they do not want to see it glorified. Bordeaux, in fact, recently requested that IHS obtain his permission before allowing its officials to talk about their efforts to combat suicide at Rosebud. And IHS has followed his request.

''We want to be sensitive to our government-to-government relationship with the tribe,'' Thomas Sweeney, a spokesman for IHS, told Indian Country Today. ''We need to honor the tribe's wishes. ... We don't want to add to their difficulties.''

He added that it is quite rare for IHS to have hashed out such an arrangement.

''We don't want copycat suicide attempts, and I do wonder if that's happened over the past three years,'' Black Bear said regarding the increased attention as of late. ''This is an area where sensitivity is key.''

No, no, no! Talking about suicide does not cause it. Ignoring it does. But graphically and irresponsibly writing about it does have a negative impact.

The mechanism behind copycat suicides is the graphic glorification of suicides by discussing the exact details of the act - like printing the imagery of someone slitting their wrists, as was done by Capriccioso in his article.

If the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are confusing the two - or if this is just a badly written article mixing the two - something needs to be done to straighten this situation out. Someone isn't "getting it." Frankly, I don't think it is the Rosebud Sioux.

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