The yearbook and the risk of suicide (5×8 – 10/11/12)

The contagion threat, clear eyes and full hearts on the campaign trail, the joy of not having kids, ready, fire, aim, and if you can’t honor a 91-year-old waitress, who can you honor?


Why, yes, I will be live-blogging tonight’s vice presidential debate tonight in this space. Thanks for asking. Pregame show starts at 7:30. Bring your wit!

1) THE CONTAGION THREAT

When a young person takes his/her own life, it’s best that they not be remembered by their young friends in any meaningful way. That, essentially, is the argument of anti-suicide experts who fear that merely taking note of their onetime existence will encourage others to kill themselves. No memorials, no yearbook mentions.

In Menahga, Minnesota, some seniors at the high school want the pictures to include Kyle Kenyon, who took his own life in January.

“I think it could be used as a teaching tool with a message of suicide prevention,” his mother, Peggy Haynes, tells The Forum. “The school thinks that putting a memorial in the yearbook is glamorizing suicide, but that’s not what the students are doing.”

The Pioneer Press reported last month that parents and educators in Norwood Young America are in the same boat. Two kids have killed themselves. Trees were planted to remember five kids who died in a car crash, one parent said, but those who claimed their own lives are being ignored.

Would remembering them plant an idea in an already susceptible young mind?

“In studies we’ve done at USC, up to 40% of the suicide attempters express to us that their friend or relative or parent had attempted suicide,” Dr. Thomas Hicklin, a psychiatrist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, told the Los Angeles Times after a cluster of suicides hit a school in Palo Alto.

But, the paper noted, the evidence is a little thin.


One might imagine that suicide risk would be greatest for those vulnerable teens who have had a close friend commit suicide. But some studies show that kids who were close to the victim actually may be at lower risk, not higher.

For example, a 1994 report in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry assessed risk factors in 146 friends and acquaintances of 26 suicide victims and compared their responses to 146 matched subjects who had not been exposed to peer suicide.

When depression and past difficulties were taken into account, exposed teens actually had a lower rate of suicide attempts, says study author Dr. David Brent, a suicide expert at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“When we asked the kids about it, what they said is that they had considered suicide a lot in the past. But having confronted it face to face, and seeing what it did to them and their friends and family, they would never do it.”

(h/t: @mnblrmkr )

2) CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS

There will be no popular culture icon left standing after this presidential campaign…How would the characters on Friday Night Lights vote in the presidential race? Someone’s actually thought this through. Coach Taylor’s wife? Obama. Coach Taylor? Romney. Tim Riggins, convicted felon, goes Romney and can because in Texas, felons can vote.

Meanwhile, back at the war over the Bird…

3) NO KIDS? NO PROBLEM

If you don’t want to have kids, no problem, a new study says. You likely won’t feel any distress over the decision. “Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers,” study author Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist, said in a press release on her study. “Yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.”

According to LiveScience.com


Pressure from friends, family and society to have kids caused distress only when women themselves considered motherhood important.

The study also found that more religious women actually felt less pressured by social messages to have children compared with less religious women. Childfree-by-choice women had the highest family income of all the women in the study, while women with medical barriers to fertility had the lowest.

“This highlights that not all women without children are the same,” McQuillan said. “While some may be devastated, others are content and finding fulfillment through other avenues such as leisure or career pursuits. Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives.”

4) READY, FIRE, AIM!

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A man in Chicago thought someone was breaking into his home. So he shot him. It was his son.

5) IF YOU CAN’T HONOR A 91-YEAR-OLD WAITRESS, WHO CAN YOU HONOR?

Saint Paul now has a Rosie Boulevard (part of Burns Avenue) now that the city had the good sense to honor Rosie Johnsen, the Pioneer Press reports.

Bonus: Willis Clemenson will be buried in Fargo today. He died Sunday at 79. Known as the “Can Man,” he cleaned the softball and baseball fields in the city. His daughter says he’d sometimes come home around midnight, with bags of cans, which he’d recycle and give the money to his grandchildren to help them through school.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, Rep. Paul Ryan, meet tonight in their only face-to-face debate of the campaign. Today’s Question: How much do running mates matter in deciding your vote for president?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The fall book season is officially in full swing and with the long winter months ahead, we’re asking what the last book was that made you tell your friend, “You must read this!”

Second hour: The best travel books.

Third hour: The best political movies.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Walter Mondale on the vice presidency.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The spillover from Syria. Syria;s civil war spilled across the northern border last week, when what may have been a stray mortar bomb killed five. Turkish civilians and triggered days of cross border artillery fire. Now NATO says it’s ready to defend a member of the alliance.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Imagine the words of 18th century English poet William Blake set to country music. Musician Martha Redbone has produced just that. NPR will report.

  • Robert Moffitt

    A quote that stands out from #4:

    “…when someone came in the back door, he just naturally assumed it was an intruder.”

    I might be surprised and scared if a similar thing happened in my home, but the idea of firing without having any idea who I am shooting at is absolutely inconceivable to me.

  • BJ

    I can’t even follow the link for #4

  • milojo

    #3 – When I was in college, I realized that the main reason I would want a child would be to see what he/she looked like (which is a really, really bad reason to have a kid).

    I don’t regret my decision to be child free at all.

  • Heather

    I don’t understand the idea that “disappearing” kids who commit suicide is somehow helpful.

    When I was in high school a boy I was dating shot himself. He was from a different town, and I hadn’t met his family. My mom heard on the news that he had died and came to school to tell me, but after that I didn’t really know what to do, and had no real way of making a connection with anyone else who was grieving him. Knowing that he had killed himself didn’t make me want to do the same, but the vanishing act that was pulled on him was pretty hurtful.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Denial isn’t renowned for it’s healing qualities. But there is some evidence that those who are considering suicide feel that permission is granted when other suicides are acknowledged. This can be seen culturally, within families, and episodically.

    It’s possible to compassionately honor the memory of someone who commits suicide, yet at the same time make clear that the action is unnecessary, by definition unhealthy, and more often than not hurtful to others, albeit perhaps unintentionally.

    ( Hmm. I suppose that could be read as being judgmental. Guilty as charged. I judge the preservation of life as being preferable to unnecessary death.)

    How’s this: it should be standard operating procedure that prevention information goes hand in hand with the public acknowledgement of a suicide.

    30 seconds or one line in a news report, school announcement or yearbook page.

  • Bob Collins

    If someone kills oneself in January and the yearbook comes out in June, would a picture of the young person be more likely — with the benefit of time and context — lead one to say “Suicide? Yep, that’s for me!” or would it bring back the hurt of an unnecessary loss and lead to a reaction of, “man, you shouldn’t have done that?”

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Nice point. Emotional/psychological state of the beholder at the time of reading would be a key determining factor as to what effect the recognition of a suicide would have on an individual.

    Along those lines, should suicide be ignored in a school publication because a one time Joe Cool on campus – but now twice divorced, obese and facing foreclosure – picks up the yearbook in anticipation of his 25 year reunion and is now faced with a choice?

  • Jamie

    re: The Further Chronicles of Slimy Romney

    That piece on Romney stealing the Friday Night Lights aphorism made me want to vomit. Romney sounds absolutely CREEPY saying it. Hearing that he stole it is no surprise, though. It fits so well with his being a liar.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie – with the propensity of both Romney and Ryan to lie so brazenly – yes, even more than the average politician – perhaps it would be appropriate to make an official name change : The Repugnant Sociopath Party. Maybe Michelle will head the 2016 ticket against Hillary.