There is sad news out of Oregon this week. Johnathan Croom, the Arizona teenager reported missing by his family, has been found dead, just 1,000 feet from where his car was discovered, abandoned last week in the woods of Southern Oregon. He should be in college now, but instead he's dead. And all anyone wants to talk about is the 18-year-old's alleged obsession with Christopher McCandless, a young man whose journey to Alaska -- and death -- were documented in the book Into the Wild.
Croom's death is being investigated by Oregon police as a possible suicide, which makes the focus on the book especially frustrating. So what if he read a book about a guy who went off into the wilderness, eschewing society and dying because of it? Is this where we should be focusing? The books he read before his death?
Quick answer: no.
Books don't cause suicide. Movies (there's also a film version of Into the Wild) do not cause suicide.
Suicide is not a "normal" response to stressors, be it media or something that happens in the home. To indicate such, as is being done in every single report I've read today on Johnathan Croom, is overly simplistic and irresponsible.
The result is an unfortunate mix of trumped up fear -- quick, if your loved one is reading Into the Wild, get them some help! -- and misplaced focus.
Here's the truth about suicide. In America, it is the seventh leading cause of death for males and the fifteenth leading cause of death for females. Suicide risk comes -- according to the scientists -- from changes in certain brain chemicals. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental disorders).
Got that? Not books. Not movies.
Suicide is a problem with a person.
If Johnathan Croom's death in the wilderness of Oregon is indeed suicide, it speaks to his own mindset and his own problems. It speaks to tragedy and to a life destroyed before it had even really begun.
This death is tragic, no doubt about it. It's something folks in America should be talking about -- if only because talking about suicide is one way to spread awareness of the options (such as the suicide hotline) out there for helping people who are at risk.
But in order to do that, we need to stop grasping at straws to find "reasons" for suicide and get down to the nitty gritty. Suicide is never, ever the answer, and it is never, ever the "normal" response.
If the words someone is using indicate they may be considering suicide, or if you yourself have wrestled with the idea, please reach out to a suicide hotline. There is ALWAYS someone there who wants to listen and who will take you seriously. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Image via police