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Surfacing problems to solve them

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

(Read caption) High school students in Mayville, N.Y., take part in a suicide-prevention program.

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To expose or not to expose? That is a question that any responsible publication has to weigh. Should details of a military operation or spy program be kept quiet for the public good? Or does publicity prevent the government from overstepping its bounds? Should a troubling news event – a violent crime, a natural disaster – be described in detail, the better to understand the nature of the problem and galvanize assistance? Or is it wiser to tone down the report to keep the public from being disturbed and (in the case of a crime) to decrease possible copy-catting?

The problem of teen suicide takes this dilemma to another level. “Most people are uncomfortable with the topic,” notes the Centers for Disease Control. But not talking about it can cause those in need of help to think they are alone in their pain. 

Connecting with others, as you’ll see in Stacy Teicher Khadaroo’s Monitor cover story (click here), is important in prevention. And yet details about teen suicide – especially graphic or emotional details – can glamorize it, especially among the impressionable young. Mental-health specialists have observed too many teen suicide clusters to have doubts about the contagion of the idea.

The rise of social networks complicates the problem. Among 14- to 17-year-olds, 9 out of 10 are on social media, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center. These networks are supposed to connect friends and make people closer. But Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like can be unfriendly and alienating to those who spend a lot of time on them. That is especially true for teens, the most socially networked age group and the most sensitive to what others think about them.

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