He was 14-years-old. He had a fight with his girlfriend and made a decision that would change the lives of so many others. He hung himself. He was a student and athlete at my daughter's school. At that young age, they grasped to understand but could not. Less than a year later, his mother, leaving other children behind, committed suicide -- never getting over the loss of her son. His memorial picture hung on my refrigerator for years. I sometimes touched it, mourning the loss of someone I never knew.
Most people don't realize that there are nearly twice as many deaths by suicide each year than death by homicide in the United States. About 30,000 people take their lives each year. Another 750,000 attempt suicide. In the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, there were 22,571 gun homicides compared to 34,232 gun suicides. And we're just talking deaths by guns here.
Those of us in the media are confronted weekly by suicide. This week, Robin Williams, the brilliant, buoyant actor-comedian killed himself by asphyxiation/hanging (third most common form of suicide behind guns and jumping off buildings.) For us in the news business, we deal with jumper on bridge. The man or woman dangling from a freeway. Death by cop -- when a suspect intentionally points a weapon at an officer knowing the cop will shoot him. The hush-hush cover up of the student who took his or her own life at school or home. I remember sending a reporter out to a shooting at a local school, only to find out a student took his own life by gun in campus bathroom. And the story faded away.
Why? Because journalists for generations have been told not to cover suicides. And worse yet, several studies have shown the more we cover them, we might encourage copycats.
The tragedy of the 14-year-old boy made me investigate the rampant scourge of suicide. Even my sunny home state of California has more suicides than homicides.
I had my staff research this several years ago. There was a rash of suicides in Japan by people throwing themselves in front of trains. The more the media reported, the more suicides occurred. But when Japanese media decided not to cover the suicides, they decreased dramatically.
Google "Suicide Copycat". Suicides increase profoundly each time a high-profile figure takes his or her own life. Suicides spiked 12 percent after Marilyn Monroe supposedly killed herself.
For more than a decade, I've wanted my news radio station KFBK in Sacramento, CA to do a series on suicide. Every time I heard of a teen death. A senseless death. But I've failed myself. I can't figure out how to make this very important but depressing issue palatable to the public. I can hear the click of a thousand dials being turned over to music....
I would guess most of us know someone who died or attempted suicide rather than someone who was murdered. We all know someone deeply depressed, hurting or hopeless.
The past month a neighbor called to tell me the woman next door to me died. She killed herself. Turned her car on in the garage and laid down. Forever. Her body wasn't found for days. My next door neighbor committed suicide.
The number one reason for suicide is depression. Help me. Help us. How do we get message out? How do we get much-needed help to those suffering before another despondent 14-year-old or Robin Williams takes their brilliant life...
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
KFBK Senior Editor Judy Farah has more than 25 years news experience in New York, Los Angeles and Sacramento. She's edited the KFBK Afternoon News with Kitty O'Neal the past 16 years while also directing the newsroom by assigning stories to reporters and scheduling guest interviews. Farah started out as a newspaper reporter on the East Coast, covering major stories as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press in Los Angeles, including the 1984 Olympics, the Oscars, Emmys, the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the criminals trials of the Night Stalker and the Hillside Stranglers.
Farah came to KFBK in 1996, and has helped direct coverage of five presidential elections, five governor's elections and the killing sprees of Yosemite Killer Cary Stayner and Scott Peterson. She reported live for two 13-hour days for KFBK from the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She was also the editor on KFBK's 2011 exclusive report that the Sacramento Kings were considering moving to Anaheim.
A graduate of William Paterson College in New Jersey, Farah has won three Edward R. Murrow awards, including one for Best Writing, while at KFBK. She's also earned three awards from the Northern California Radio Television News Directors Association for Best Series, Best Newscast and Best Sports Segment. She has also written for the Wall Street Journal, TV Guide, Los Angeles and Parents magazines. She was honored with a Jefferson Fellowship in 2009 and traveled to Japan, China and Hong Kong to study the Asian economy. In 2010, she was awarded a RTNDA RIAS Fellowship to travel to Germany, Belgium and Prague to study the European economy.
Farah currently is a national blogger for The Huffington Post and often speaks on news and social media. You can find her on Twitter @newsbabe1530
In her free time, Farah enjoys the outdoors by hiking along the American River bike trail and kayaking. A wine enthusiast, Farah's produced a monthly wine segment on KFBK the past five years and enjoys visiting our local foothill wineries.