Naming those who die by suicide or overdose

It’s best not to keep people wondering.

LtE bug

Why, pray tell, does the Courier-Herald decline to publish names of persons who die by drug overdose or suicide? (“Body Found in Myrtle Avenue porta potty,” published Dec. 9, 2020). While I understand why suicides particularly should not be sensationalized due to fears of inciting copycat or imitation events, naming suicide victims and those who died of drug overdoses instead helps limit idle speculation and scuttlebutt as to the victim’s identity.

When I was a youth, the Courier-Herald (C-H) took the opposite approach. In July 1968, after John Sherwood died after “consuming excessive amounts of liquor by person or persons unknown,” the C-H not only told us John’s name and cause of death, but also provided a follow-up, front page article titled, “Narcotic, Alcohol Problems Causing Deep Concern Here” (Oct. 17, 1968). The combined effect of those articles had a galvanizing effect on Enumclaw’s youth as many deep discussions and heart-felt conversations followed. Out of it came a profound understanding that life is precious and dangers lurked within our midst.

The C-H certainly states the names of people who die in car accidents as a result of alcohol overdoses. Alcohol is in fact a drug, and knowing what happened leads to educational opportunities, particularly about the fatal danger of drinking and driving. The same is true for drug overdoses, which in many cases are accidental, as drug-intoxicated individuals are prone to mistakes.

I believe prevention of drug overdose deaths and suicides is enhanced by accurate, but not sensational reporting of the facts surrounding such deaths. The coverage needn’t be shocking or exploitative, but accurate and sober. In the real world people are quick to sensational explanations when true facts are hidden or clouded by virtue-signaling agendas.

With deaths by suicide and drugs increasing, especially among young people, now is no time to hide these events in a darkened closet. I remember the days when people were afraid to even say “cancer” for fear the mere word might produce ill effects or be contagious. Dancing around a subject and shielding it from view might allow reporters to feel good about themselves, but doing so will only sow wild speculation and prurient interest, particularly among the population most vulnerable to drugs and suicide.

Tell it like it is. Don’t sensationalize it. Don’t stigmatize it. But do offer readers facts about the event and sources for help in dealing with both of these social epidemics. In addition to an evenhanded news story, every article about these matters should provide phone numbers and websites for those in need of help.

Bill Kombol

Black Diamond


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