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Editorial | Constructive conversation: Student suicide

By Editorial Board
On April 3, 2014

A few days ago, the editorial editors received a letter responding to an article titled, "Student suicides call community to action." The letter expressed deep concern and criticism of our coverage of two suicides at Miami. We respect the comments made in this letter and understand that the recent student deaths at Miami have struck a chord with hundreds of Miami students, families and faculty; the author of this letter probably expresses the feelings of many others. The editorial board wants to express its condolences to the family and friends of Andrew Salsman and Jaclyn Wulf.

Over the course of this academic year, The Miami Student editorial board has struggled to make many tough ethical decisions regarding the coverage of student death - decisions that are neither easy nor desirable. As students ourselves, we make decisions as best we can with the information we have. We aren't professionals, we're learners. Writing about something as delicate as suicide is hard. Period. Our news editor, Emily Crane, gave a deep look into what it is like to cover death in a letter published earlier this year, "There is no instruction manual on covering death."

With the March 18 article titled "Student suicides call community to action," the editorial board carefully deliberated over what information to include and spent a long time thinking about how to include it. The decision to print that article was a difficult one. We sought council from the university administration, from faculty members and from the parents of the deceased students.

In the end, we made the best decisions we could and ran the piece because we felt it had the power to grab people and provide them with important and needed information and to perhaps prevent something like this from happening again. If even one death down the road could somehow be prevented thanks in part to the information we provided in that article, then it was worth printing.

That's also the reason why the parents of both deceased students were highly supportive of us running the article and agreed to speak with us at length. We used great tact in reaching out to the families of the deceased. We went through the dean of students who asked the parents if they wanted to be involved in the writing of our article and both parents were eager to speak to us, eager to answer our questions and eager to help us in our goal: to turn these tragic deaths into an opportunity for learning and growth.

Both parents reached out to us after the article was printed to thank us for running it. Though it was incredibly difficult for them, they wanted to speak to us about what their children went through and what they have gone through since because they, like us, are idealists. They too believe if even one life down the road could be saved through their child's death, then that death could be redeemed.

We don't want Jaclyn and Andrew's deaths to remain just deaths - we want them to be the beginning of something new and powerful and beautiful. It's ideological, yes, but that's the idea behind why we ran the article. We stand by those decisions now, but we welcome continued criticisms and insights. We want to learn from this and grow from this. Only time and wisdom will tell us later on whether we handled this correctly, but we can promise we did the very best job we could possibly do. 

The Editorial Board wants our readers and the Miami community to take action in changing the stigma that surrounds depression and mental illness. The ideology that those with mental illness are weak or inferior must stop. No one should feel like they shouldn't be able to seek help or treatment in fear of damaging their reputation with their friends, family or even the university. We encourage you to read Nicole Theodore's column in this issue titled, "Anonymous letter challenges the effectiveness of suicide prevention."

Most of us on the editorial board realize how many people mask their struggles behind a smile. Sometimes, we may think we know a friend or relative well but it is often too late when we realize they were struggling with depression, for example, the whole time.

Though it is sometimes hard to believe, almost everyone is fighting some type of battle - yes, even if their Facebook pictures or Instagram seem to indicate otherwise.

The fact is that most people are very good at hiding their struggles. 

Everyone goes through periods of rough patches in their lives and need love, care, and support from others. Be alert. Be cautious, even overly cautious at times. Look out for each other and utilize the student wellness website or building for more help.

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