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Why reporting on suicide is never easy

Suicides and bomb threats. Two things newsrooms always debate before reporting. Why? Traditional thinking is you don’t want to encourage others to try it, just to get attention. You have to have a darn good reason to argue successfully for reporting either one.

Suicides and bomb threats. Two things newsrooms always debate before reporting. Why? Traditional thinking is you don’t want to encourage others to try it, just to get attention. You have to have a darn good reason to argue successfully for reporting either one.

The criteria for reporting bomb threats seems to have lessened somewhat over the years. You used to report them only when a.) something actually blows up or b.) it causes a large public disruption. Bomb threats may get reported more often these days because police department bomb squads now have these cool little robots they can send in to blow up suspicious packages. Those robots make for great or video. Who doesn’t love a robot? I guess you could argue sending in the bomb squad falls under reason to report c.) the expenditure of public resources. And if the little robot guy actually detonates something, well then you’re covered by reason a.)

Deciding to report a suicide is never easy. Emotions are raw, even for the journalists discussing the death of someone they never knew. We feel the weight of the families who’ve lost someone they loved. We don’t want to make the situation worse. We feel sadness for the person who thought there was no other way forward. And we too are angry at the waste of it all.

At one of our afternoon editorial meetings this week, we discussed not one, but four suicides we’d been told about. We chose to report two of the deaths, because they may underline a systemic failure of our country to offer returning veterans the support they need. Two Canadian soldiers had died suddenly and officials from Canadian Forces Base Shilo confirmed what friends had told us, that the deaths appeared to be suicides. Sadly the next night we brought you news of a third soldier, based at CFB Petawawa, who had also killed himself.  All three men served in Afghanistan.

David Common said on CBC Radio’s World Report Friday ”the deaths once again raise questions about releasing injured soldiers from the military before they are eligible for pensions.”  A friend of one of the soldiers told our Jill Coubrough "he was concerned that he was going to be released from the military because of his back issues and because of his post traumatic stress disorder.”

We can’t say at this point exactly who or what was responsible for these deaths, and whether anything could have prevented them.  But right now it appears some key support which should have been there was missing, and that is deeply troubling.

About the Author

Janet Stewart

Host, CBC News: Winnipeg

Janet Stewart hosts CBC News Winnipeg at 5, 5:30 & 6 p.m. on CBC Television. After moving to Winnipeg from her native Nova Scotia in 2001, Janet has immersed herself in the city and is proud to call Winnipeg home. She has made connecting with the community one of her top priorities, lending her time and energy to many organizations.

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