‘Facing Suicide’ series explores mental health concerns

Headline: Facing Suicide
Outlet: The Morning Journal
Journalist: Kelly Petryszyn

Suicide is one of the most challenging topics for a reporter to address, because it’s such a difficult topic for family members to discuss.

Kelly Petryszyn of the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, spoke with grieving families that trusted her with the stories of loved ones who had killed themselves. The resulting series, Facing Suicide, won the DFMie for the Midwest cluster of Digital First Media. Alas, the series was also Petryszyn’s swan song with the Morning Journal, as she has since taken a job with Cleveland magazine.

Here’s what News-Herald Editor Tricia Ambrose wrote in choosing the project as a finalist for the Midwest cluster:

When 16-year-old Jessica Fernandez of Vermilion Township stepped in front of a speeding railroad train and ended her short, troubled life, her death shocked the public.

Kelly Petrysyzn, on her own initiative, produced a three-part series examining local teen suicides and how families and the community have coped with such tragedies. One source in Kelly’s project was George Staursky, who is a mental health blogger in The Morning Journal’s Community Media Lab.

A judge’s comment:

Petryszyn’s stories are well-written, understated but compelling and moving. They provoke a number of questions, but don’t leave the reader feeling that the stories left the questions unanswered, just that there are questions about why teens commit suicide that we don’t have answers for.

These stories are more personal than we usually read in a newspaper, especially with the accompanying videos of survivors and other visual elements. It’s impressive that Petryszyn was able to elicit the families’ trust, and she handles the intimacy well. I never felt that the intimate feelings and details were being exploited for sensation’s sake.

Another interesting point about the two stories Petryszyn chose to tell is how different they are: the girl’s story a long journey toward suicide that the parents tried to prevent (and a diagnosed mental illness), and the boy’s story such an unexpected tragedy. I have strong feelings about how our mental health system fails families trying to find help for their children before they hurt themselves or others. I also have strong feelings about how keeping guns in the home is pushed as a way to “keep your family safer,” when statistics show that families with guns in the home experience a higher rate of gun deaths by suicide or homicide. But I appreciated that, although Petryszyn’s stories reported how both of these issues affected the two families, she didn’t politicize that reality or do much “blaming.”

I also appreciated the way Petryszyn wrote about Hein Bohn’s religion and spirituality, including her dreams. Possibly some readers of The Morning Journal have never read so much about one of their neighbors’ personal Buddhist beliefs.

As reporters, I think we all hope to “make a difference.” In this case, Petryszyn’s stories — and the resources and information offered in the third story — may actually have changed lives or even saved a life.

Another judge:

Kelly’s story touches on an important issue, and she did a great job of finding some compelling personal stories to highlight the issue.

I think the first story of the series – on Jessica Fernandez – was the best of the bunch. Kelly got an amazing level of details that made the story feel really personal. The accompanying video was good, although it would have been interesting to have the parents talk more about their daughter. The two folo stories were good, and I like how Kelly tied in national suicide info in the last story, as well as prevention tips.

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