Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Reporting on mental illness gets the issue before the public

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We waited a day after the suicide attempt of a former Victoria County commissioner to be sure we were handling the story well. Even so, you're never sure you're doing the right thing when reporting about such sensitive and sad matters.

We look to the experts for guidance in such situations. Although all experts never agree on anything, the American Psychiatric Association says reports on deaths by suicide should include the cause of death. Click here for a full story on the subject.

The article also encourages the media not to glamorize suicide or try to simplify the reasons for it. In terms of the latter issue, our headline and story today could have been better. It's natural for people to wonder why a 24-year public official would take such an action, but it's beyond the realm of a news story to explain it.

Increasingly, mental illness is a subject people talk about more openly. Reporting responsibly on suicide is a step toward keeping the issue in the public consciousness.  If it's never reported, the problem doesn't go away. It may even get worse because people don't realize what's happening.

In our coverage today, we also neglected to include information about the crisis hotline available at Hope of South Texas, 573-3600 or 1-800-365-7345. We should report this information with every story about suicide.

We also should regularly remind people of the warning signs. One such list is available at the American Association of Suicidology. The site also has guidelines for the media that we shared today in the newsroom as a reminder.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the former commissioner. In our newsroom, we were touched last Christmas by the suicide of a co-worker. We know the pain and confusion that results.