Stopping the pain; that seems to be the goal when teens commit suicide. I once heard it described as a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but far too many teens do not see it that way. Young people face a barrage of challenges from their own raging hormones to peer pressure and for some, the unrelenting reality of teasing and bullying.

Media across the country covered the recent suicide of Ottawa teen, Jamie Hubley.  Hubley was no stranger to bullying. By all accounts, he faced taunts about his sexuality on a daily basis. But bullying was only one contributor to the teen’s decision to end his own life. He had also been dealing with a debilitating depression.

Societal issues of suicide and mental illness, of bigotry and homophobia are complex issues, not easily dealt with in a single news story.  Studies have shown that media coverage of suicide can lead to a contagion effect, which makes covering such stories problematic for journalists.

Kelly Egan of the Ottawa Citizen writes: “The Canadian Psychiatric Association has a set of guidelines on how the media should report on the subject of suicide. This week, the media violated most of them.”

Egan makes a good case for responsible journalism and the need for journalists not to romanticize suicide.

So how should journalists approach the thorny issues involved in covering this story?  The articles I have read reveal a high incidence of suicide among lesbians, gays and bi-sexual people, particularly among teens.

Melissa Carroll, a journalist with the Globe and Mail pointed out that the media have “avoided the relationship between youth suicide and queer sexuality”.

Reuters health journalist, Genevra Pittman, reported on a paediatric study which claims that the incidence of suicide for homosexual, bisexual, and lesbian teens are five times higher than the rest of the teen population.

Journalists have a responsibility to inform and reflect public issues; to help facilitate discussion. Andre Picard, the Globe and Mail, does just this as he examines these issues. His article shines light on the topics and shares concrete evidence and advice.

Mental health issues, homophobia, and bullying are all important topics for discussion.  There are no easy answers but reading these reports have made it clear that these important issues must be reported on with due care and sensitivity.

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12 thoughts on “Homophobia and teen suicide

  1. Great insights here, Carol. But there is a larger problem. Many people still think it’s cool, fun and morally acceptable to bully and beat on members of the LGBT community. Not just kids, but adults. And as long as adults refuse to change their attitudes, it’s impossible to expect young people to. After all, people tend to mirror their environments when it comes to social acceptance. And this is a multi-faceted phenomenon. If most of the people around a person find it acceptable to belittle gay people, that person will adopt that behaviour to fit in. On the other side, gay people tend to cling to the closet as a last ditch effort to fit in. When they finally reach the point where they can no longer deny themselves and come out, they will often find themselves confronted by that group that thinks they are a fair target. In spite of all the progress made since Stonewall (http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2009/06/449-stonewall.html) there is still a large number of people who still can’t let go of hate. There are a lot of psychological theories about why some people can’t accept gay people as just people, and that is far beyond the scope of this blog. But I think we have to nail down just what has been going on in the past few years in order to come to terms with the problem and then overcome it. Unfortunately, to little has been done to ebb the tide of anxiety that we have been seeing.

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  2. Bullying is something that will always be around…humans will fight and be mean it is in our nature. We as parents need to prepare our children in the instice that they are bullied, and how to better stand up for themselves when we are not around.

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    1. There is definitely some truth to that. Human beings do seem to retain some of those mean, almost animal-type qualities. Still, I think we should also teach our children to be kind; to be accepting of one another’s differences and we can only do that by modelling those behaviours ourselves. Thank you for your remarks Tiffany.

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  3. Thank you for your comments Don. The problems are widespread and need focus and as you said the issues are far beyond the scope of a blog. I am no expert but I think discussion around the issues is very important. I believe there have been several studies in psychological circles that have shown the cycle of violence and hate. It is a societal issue that can only be surmounted by continued discussion and through action. Children do learn what they live and it is up to us as adults to model behaviour that is inclusive, fair and respectful of all persons.

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  4. Maybe we should educate young people more about famous gay people. There are a lot of examples in the past and present about very talented gay people..
    When I was a teen I studied Endlish reading Oscar Wilde…Still remember fairytales from the book “House of Pomgranate” . Once I was told that everybody not better and not worse than others, just different…

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    1. I wonder what you think about the way the story was covered Anna? I think Don has a very good point about attitudes toward those different than us is learned from adults. Though education, no matter what form it may take from fairy tales to whatever – it’s all important. Ignorance cannot thrive where enlightenment reigns.

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  5. The really awful part about Jamie Hubley’s situation was that his parents were completely supportive and tried so hard to help him however they could. I say it is the worst part of it because it goes to show that even for teens with a supportive family aren’t immune to the kind of devastating effects of depression and bullying. The power of peers can’t be underestimated; people need to open their eyes to what their peers are going through and try to help. It isn’t always so simple as having a supportive family; the power of friendship knows no bounds in much the same way.

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    1. Jamie’s parents aren’t part of the problem, they’re an example of the solution. Many kids grow up with homophobic parents who pass along their attitudes to their kids. It’s these kids who become the bullies and whose parents need to be re-educated. Unfortunately, the old expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is often applicable to those with outdated beliefs.

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  6. Thank you for your post! It is sad that we as humans can be so crule and in turn hurt someone so much that they end their own life:( The only thing sadder is that there is no end in sight. No matter what laws are put in place to stop bullying it will still happen. Humans are flawed and will always find a way to pick out the “weaker” links..It sounds mean but it is the truth. If only we could just say ” you can’t be mean” and that be it but it is not the case. As parents we have to teach out children to stand up for themselves and not to take the bullying…..AT ALL COST, don’t we owe it to our children?

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  7. I thought the Kelly Egan piece was spot on. There is a danger in romanticizing the person (pointing out his beauty, for instance) and holding that person up as a martyr for the cause, when there may be more than one factor involved in the person’s decision to commit suicide. This story points to the importance of detachment for journalists – not reacting to a story in a knee-jerk way.

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