Yesterday, I learned that Kyle Scanlon, a well-loved and respected member of the trans* activist scene in Toronto, had died. Kyle committed suicide last week in his Toronto home.
He’s not someone I knew well, but I’d reported on a couple events featuring Kyle’s presence in the past. It was a shock to think that he would no longer bump into me on the corner of a busy Toronto intersection. He won’t be smiling while I fumble with my notepad to get a quote from him in the middle of a party.
I’m consistently awkward in groups of people—especially when reporting. My back-up recorder falls out of my handbag as I turn my cellphone to airplane mode. My pencil slips between my fingers while I try to understand why my camera isn’t working. My heart is pounding, and I feel stupid. But when Kyle was there, that stuff wasn’t. He didn’t do anything big; he was just patient. And nice. My memory of feeling safe, light, like I could breathe around this guy is a strong one. He likely didn’t know that he was throwing me these little lifeboats. I certainly had no idea he could have used one himself.
It makes me think, if a nervous moment with Kyle could mean so much to me, how much could he have meant to his friends and family?
Then I think—how could a person who gave so much good to people be dealing with so much darkness on their own?
There’s no way to blame the world for one person’s journey. But I think that it’s time for us to take a hard look at the stigma that we allow to settle around words like “mental illness.” And reporters, especially, have a lot of responsibility here.
It wasn’t so long ago that journalism lived by an old code: suicide was rarely reported. It did not get talked about for fear that detail or glorification of the incidents would lead to copycat suicides.
But this left people struggling in the dark. People who did have depression or suicidal thoughts were left with no proof that they weren’t alone. And communities, rather than coming together to heal, pushed the memories deep down with no record of the hurt that happened.
That’s starting to change, for two reasons. First of all, social media has changed who gets to write the script of grief. Within 24 hours of the announcement that Kyle had died, people were sharing their own experiences over Facebook or Twitter.
Secondly, a new generation of journalists is questioning old rules. In 2010, Liam Casey at the Ryerson Review of Journalism demanded that we revisit the media’s discussion of mental illness. “Suicide avoidance is a throwback to journalism’s dark days, a time when editors and news producers could choose to ignore unpleasant matters,” Casey writes. “But the industry can no longer justify failing to cover a tragedy that will affect so many people, in one way or another, at some time in their lives.”
If we want to stop suicide, we have to start talking about it—with our friends, to our family, and in our newspapers. We have to talk about the way people are loved and valued. Tell people not to go, because they’ll be missed. Writers can’t keep these stories secret any more. Too many lives like Kyle’s are on the line.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call a friend or your local suicide hotline for help.
In the U.S.? Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Under 20? Call Kids’ Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.