Last week, a story about the honest and loving obituary that a father in Scranton, Pennsylvania, wrote about his daughter’s years-long struggle with mental illness and eventual suicide went viral online.
Reading about the life and tragic death of Katie Schoener reminded me of a similar story, one of former Duluth resident Aletha Meyer Pinnow, whose sister Eleni Pinnow wrote a heart-wrenching tribute to her sister in her obituary after Aletha died by suicide in February 2016.
In both cases, news organizations around the country covered the obituaries, interviewing the family members who wrote them, and asking them about their decisions to go public with the true stories behind their loved ones’ deaths.
It’s important to mention that these two families aren’t alone in their move toward increased openness in public discussion about mental illness as a contributing factor in death. Over the last several years, countless cases of similar obituaries can be cited.
Some mental health advocates are saying that this increasing honesty about the sometimes-lethal side effects of mental illness is a positive trend, hoping that expanding the public discourse over mental health through death notices may reduce negative stereotypes, encourage treatment and save lives.
Does open discussion about mental illness and suicide make a difference?
Research on the effects is limited, but with U.S. suicide rates at the highest level in decades, even small public actions like these obituaries feel welcome.