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Media Urged to Play Down Teen Suicides With AM-Japan-Suicide Bjt

March 26, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Four specialists in teen-age suicide prevention urged the media Thursday to stop making suicides front-page news and instead emphasize where troubled youngsters can go for help.

″We should avoid romanticizing suicides,″ Charlotte P. Ross, president and executive director of the Youth Suicide National Center in Washington, told a news conference.

″There’s always a population at risk out there,″ said Dr. Samuel Klagsbrun, co-founder and medical director of Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, N.Y. ″The articles we write, the shows we broadcast may or may not stir up that population.″

The specialists said the reasons why some youths attempt, or commit, suicide still are not known. But they said studies have generally found that some youths are suffering from depression, not merely ″the blues;″ some are acting impulsively in response to a short-lived hurt in their lives; some have set impossible goals and some have more profound psychological problems.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of deaths among teen-agers and that the number of teen suicides has increased significantly in the past two decades, the experts noted.

According to statistics released by the Youth Suicide National Center, the number of suicides among 15- to 19-year-old Americans rose from 475 in 1960, or 3.6 per 100,000, to 1,692 in 1984, or 9 per 100,000. In addition, the center said, it is generally agreed that for every completed suicide, there are 100 attempts.

″Frankly, we have a limited understanding of what information causes what to happen. We are sharing with the media a dilemma we have together,″ said Dr. Herman Pardes, chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia University in New York.

″The very things that make a news story are the very things that may cause a suicide - the lurid information.″

Pardes suggested that the media steer away from some of the specifics and instead offer depersonalized facts.

″The accounts that allow a given teen-ager to identify with the victim, accounts that review the victim’s personal life, make it easy for teens looking for models to follow.″

Pardes and others suggested that making teen suicides prominent news is giving the youths a fame in death that they might not have achieved in life. Such fame might encourage others to follow suit, they said.

Dr. Seymour Perlin, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University Medical Center here, said that despite the publicity that surrounded the recent suicides of four young people in Bergenfield, N.J., and ″copycat″ or ″cluster″ suicides in Illinois, the number of such suicides actually is small.

″What you’ve been hearing about are the cluster suicides,″ Perlin said. ″The antithesis to that may be the Betty Ford effect, which encourages people who are needy to go out and do something about it. You can also romanticize what is good.″

Former first lady Betty Ford acknowledged publicly several years ago that she had an alcohol and drug problem and she went into a hospital for treatment. After her recovery, she created a treatment center for substance abusers.

″If we repeat alternative solutions and where to get help, that might influence as well,″ Perlin added.

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