In Fort Collins, Colo., there's a small-town newspaper, the Coloradoan, that is making a big impression on me. Executive editor Lauren Gustus and her staff are covering the issue of suicide in Larimer County in as wise and sensitive a manner as I've seen, and I recommend the fruits of their labors as an example of a valiant effort to tell the whole story about the horribly difficult topic of suicide.
This, however, is more than great journalism (although it is all of that), for the Coloradoan is declaring its commitment "in the coming weeks and months ... to create a focused community conversation on this issue" -- and it seems courageous to me for a newspaper to lead the way like this, especially in a community where the suicide rate is 25 deaths per 100,000 people, which is twice the rate of suicide in the United States.
Please go to Gustus's introduction to the Jan. 15 issue to find links to the dozen articles, videos, and infographics that begin the Coloradoan's coverage.
And join me -- on behalf of loss survivors and everyone who is affected by suicide -- in thanking the newspaper especially for two elements of its reportage that are superb:
First is the infographic (a portion of it is pictured above), which Gustus says is designed not to focus on "the identities of these 81 people and how they died ... [but] instead to share something about how each lived." And the paper lists, month by month, all 81 of the people who died by suicide in the county, noting that:
Their passions, talents and dreams are a legacy their loved ones remember every day. That loss is personal -- something not to be exploited in our community’s search for answers.
Second, anyone in Larimer County can access an online form* to "share with us how suicide has impacted your life." An open-ended invitation is offered that is almost breathtaking to me in its compassionate intention. Here are the instructions:
Whether in the form of a letter, essay, song or something else completely, the Coloradoan wants to hear how suicide -- recent or historical -- has affected the residents of Fort Collins and Larimer County. Topics for written submissions include but are in no way limited to the following: What’s been your experience with suicide? What hurts the most about it? What should people talk more about? What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about suicide? What has the healing process looked like for you?
That seems like a wonderful way to start a conversation about suicide -- in Larimer County or anywhere.
* Note: I did not include the link to the form, since its purpose is to invite feedback from people in communities served by the Coloradoan, but since USA Today owns the Colorado newspaper, maybe this is an idea that will find its way up the chain of command and "go national."