Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias In journalism school, curious reporters-to-be are taught to seek the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. It's a lesson that's learned so well that it almost becomes instinctive behavior.

That doesn't mean, however, that it always is the correct behavior. That's why, in the Plain Talk's coverage of Saturday's tragic event in Vermillion, much of those lessons were temporarily put aside.

People didn't need this newspaper to tell them what happened, or when or where. It didn't take long for the community to learn that a teenager committed suicide, the third self-inflicted death of a young person in Vermillion in the course of a year.

Out of respect for family and other loved ones, we won't mention who was involved. We have decided to make that part of our policy whenever a suicide occurs in the privacy of someone's home.

That doesn't mean, however, that we have chosen to sit by quietly. By deciding to take a safe route that does no harm, we run the risk of ignoring a deadly problem. We recognize that a community newspaper can serve as an agent of healing. We have decided that is the best role we can fill during this time when many of Vermillion's people are stunned and suffering.

We also don't fear becoming an advocate for change. Not when the welfare of our children is at stake.

Vermillion, and the whole state of South Dakota for that matter, has long counted on the values unique to the Midwest. It has always been said that people from our part of the country are ambitious, friendly, and able to roll with the punches. We have a quality of life here that many other communities and states envy.

But, we are learning � the hard way � that we are not immune from many of the major social problems that are gripping this nation.

In July 1999, the South Dakota Department of Health released the most recent statistics available concerning the incidence of youth suicide in South Dakota.

Among South Dakota residents, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth age 15-24 years, accounting for 24 percent of deaths in that age group for the five years 1994-1998.

The only cause accounting for more deaths in this age group is unintentional injury, primarily motor vehicle deaths. (Source: South Dakota Department of Health)

On the average, 25 young people between the ages of 15-24 commit suicide in South Dakota each year, a rate of almost one youth suicide every two weeks. (Source: South Dakota Department of Health)

Among South Dakota resident youth age 15-24, in the five-year period 1994 through 1998, white males committed 58 percent of the suicides. For the same time period and age group the suicide rate for males was more than five times higher than for females.

Females had a much higher nonfatal suicide attempt rate than did their male counterparts. (Source: South Dakota Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

While the majority of South Dakota residents age 15-24 committing suicide were among whites in the five years 1994-1998, the rates were highest among Native Americans in this age group. (Source: South Dakota Department of Health)

Firearms were the most common method of suicide among South Dakota resident youth age 15-24 in the five years 1994-1998. (Source: South Dakota Department of Health)

South Dakota youth surveyed reported that 27 percent have seriously considered attempting suicide, 21 percent say they have made a plan about how they would attempt suicide and 11 percent report they have actually attempted suicide. (SD Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 1997)

In today's Plain Talk, our readers will find information we hope will be valuable. This week we have strived to let the public know how the community is dealing with this tragedy. We have shared some gripping statements from a Vermillion mother who lost her son to suicide earlier this year. We have published warning signs and risk factors of suicide.

Of the five Ws mentioned above, one remains untouched. We know we could search long and hard and still be unable to come up with a proper answer to why.

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