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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Enquirer’s O’Farrell:  Suicide Watch!

Posted by The Dean of Cincinnati

Photo courtesy of here.

In 2007, I first noticed the Enquirer’s Peggy O’Farrell had been given the “suicide beat.”  Shortly after, I learned the World Health Organization has standards for journalism and suicide reporting—specifically how news outlets should avoid suicide stories due to the likelihood of increased copycat suicides.  I tried to get the Enquirer to stop doing this, and to issue a front page report about safety, but to no avail.  Today I see O’Farrell is at it again, spreading the word about strategies for teenagers who wish to kill themselves.

Today’s headline:  “Teen’s suicide warning too late.”  Here is the bulk of the suicide story:

In the Springfield Township suicide, the second within a week in that community, the teen messaged the friend shortly before noon on MySpace that he planned to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The friend, a 17-year-old girl in Texas, immediately tried calling police for help, but didn’t know which agency to contact, said Dave Ausdenmoore, a detective with the Hamilton County Regional Electronics and Computer Investigations task force.

By the time she found a phone number for the Cincinnati Police Department, a secretary immediately put the call through to Ausdenmoore about 12:45 p.m.

“I took it from there,” Ausdenmoore said.

Ausdenmoore then contacted MySpace with the 16-year-old’s user ID, and technicians at the social-networking site were able to tell him that Time Warner Cable was the teen’s Internet provider “within about five minutes,” he said.

Next, he contacted the cable company. A technician there told Ausdenmoore he’d have to fax over an emergency disclosure form so the company could provide the teen’s information.

Ausdenmoore said he sent the form, but then had to wait for the cable company to call back. He said he sat through a conference call with the cable company’s legal department and waited while they verified all of his information.

Getting the information “took about 45 minutes, maybe a little longer,” he said.

He then called the 911 dispatch center, who sent Springfield Township police and paramedics to the teen’s home.

It was too late.

Police found the teen dead when they arrived shortly after 2 p.m.

This is a dangerous drama O’Farrell and the Enquirer have advanced:  post to MySpace, and see if someone intervenes before it’s too late.  O’Farrell and the Enquirer should be ashamed of themselves.  They don’t even include any resources for people struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.

Here are some starting points:

*Children’s Hospital Suicide Prevention Program

*Crisis Care Center Hotline (as listed here):  24 hours / 7 days -  (513) 281-CARE (2273)

*Mental Health Association of Southwest Ohio

This latest suicide piece comes just a few weeks after O’Farrell had a field day with a March 1st series in The Enquirer:

In “Survivor wants to share his story,” O’Farrell highlights one teens struggle to overcome thoughts of suicide.  For unknown reasons, however, she still detailed his procedure:

Alone, he had the chance, the desire and a way to kill himself.

Beischel doesn’t remember digging out the keys to the locked gun cabinet. He does remember carrying the shotgun to the backyard, loading it and lifting the barrel to his mouth.

He stood there, his finger on the trigger, struggling with the decision.

“I was thinking two things,” he said. “I was going, ‘Just do it. Just pull the trigger.’ But at the same time, I knew I shouldn’t even be thinking of it.”

He thought about his parents asking him, every day, how school had gone.

He dropped the gun and called his father.

O’Farrell wants us to know some details about 14 year old Justin Brown in this article:

“I’m so sorry.”

That’s all Justin Brown wrote in the suicide note he left his family on April 11, 2006.

And O’Farrell also wants us to know the details procedures used by Max Nolan, who thankfully did not succeed:

Max Nolan thought about killing himself for days as September slipped into October. The notion of suicide was a constant, nagging idea.

He did a Google search on suicide, looking for the best way. He read everything he could about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide.

Then, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, Nolan wrote notes to his parents and his best friend, swallowed a handful of Vicodin and waited for darkness. “I really wasn’t planning on doing it that day,” he said, but he was home alone. “For some reason, something clicked.”

Nolan was just beginning his junior year at Sycamore High School. In mid-summer, two Sycamore High students had committed suicide. Their deaths, he said, might have influenced his decision.

She’s actually giving people the idea to search for strategies on Google, and to swallow a handful of Vicodin.  How irresponsible!  What’s more shocking is the last line in the excerpt above:  Nolan acknowledges this decision was influenced by other teens doing the same thing.  This is precisely why the World Health Organization has a media kit for handling suicide reporting—and it does not include turning them into special reports and an ongoing series.  But with The Enquirer, it looks like they have even assigned O’Farrell as the suicide beat reporter!

The Enquirer should adopt a more responsible policy.

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  1. dap says:

    I know there are anecdotal reports of suicides following reports of suicides.  But are there any real scientific studies behind this?  Or are we merely connecting linking events because they are reported?

    Would opening up the discussion about suicide help reduce the number of incidents?  Does it have no effect?  Does it increase the number of incidents?  Where are the statistical studies?

  2. Suicide Beatnik says:

    You forgot to rip Kurt Cobain a new one for setting a bad example for America’s youth. Why doesn’t the W.H.O. have a policy for youth culture anti-heros to follow? Don’t you think there might be some depressed youth out there, who don’t swallow a handful of Vicodin because of the attention given to the subject? What about a parent that diverts some attention to their kid’s mental outlook because of the article? Why is there no criticism from you, for rock bands that glorify teen suicide, (i.e., Suicidal Tendencies)? Do you even care about the kids; or, is this only about the Enquirer? This rant leaves many unanswered questions.

  3. anon says:

    I think it was a good article.  It is important that we know that this is going on.  I also think it is important to call Time Warner out for not responding timely in an emergency situation.  I see nothing wrong with this.

  4. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    Really?  It is important to know some kid killed himself in the garage?  Why?

  5. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    It’s not, at least in the shallow entertaining way that O’Farrell approaches the subject. I agree with the Dean that this type of journalism could cause more harm than help, especially considering the lack of attention to suicide prevention. What am I suppose to gain from reading this? Suicide is occurring and here is a way i will succeed and or fail at it seems to be all that is offered. There is a whole section for obituaries last time I checked, why can’t we leave it at that?

  6. Citizens For Live Children says:

    From #4:

    Really?  It is important to know some kid killed himself in the garage?  Why?

    Given how you treat people; this question might have more importance for you in the future. It must be nice to think of yourself as perfect; I hope in ten years your kids can find a way to live through your expectations. But hey, your always right, why worry?

  7. NtotheC says:


    It seems that the WHO report that the Dean links to includes information about studies done regarding the linkage between media reports and increased use of methods described and numbers of suicides.

    The WHO does a decent job of describing the circumstances that should be involved in reporting of suicide, including attention to the grief and suffering of those left behind and the ill effects of a failed suicide (as a deterrent).

    The media has the responsibility of informing the public, and doing so in a responsible manner.  Sort of in a “do no harm” sort of way.

  8. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:
  9. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) says:

    You seem to aggregate all of the most (potentially) dangerous passages here. I’m not criticizing, just asking:  I know you have a smaller audience than the Enquirer (for now), but how is propagating these stories here—and pointing out that they offers guidebook of sorts—different from publishing them in the first place?  Did you try writing this without the quoted text and find that it wasn’t effective?

    I think you’re starting a worthwhile conversation, and I’m just curious…

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