PEOPLE OFTEN LIKE to ask writers where they get their story ideas. People, especially anyone who has experience with it, don’t often like to talk about suicide.
So it was unusual, late last March, to receive a press release for a small event to be held at a Fremont tavern to raise money in honor of a young woman who’d taken her own life. The sender appealed to us to spread the word, saying that proceeds would go to the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to help individuals with depression.
I get a lot of press releases, but I took more notice than I might have because I myself have benefited from the organization’s education programs. I forwarded the announcement to one of our editors, James Ross Gardner, who turned up a mention of the event on the NAMI Greater Seattle website with a more chilling cast: In January 2011, Kaylan Rose Campbell, a beautiful, young artist struggling with depression, decided to end her life. She jumped from the Aurora Bridge shortly before construction of the preventive guard rail was completed.
Suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is the fourth leading cause of death of adults aged 18 to 65 in the U.S., more than stroke, diabetes, and homicide. And Seattle holds a significant ranking among those numbers: The Aurora Bridge is second in the country only to the Golden Gate in San Francisco in the number of people who jump to their deaths.
As James began to explore the story over the course of the spring, he interviewed those who’d been closest to Kaylan Campbell, people who generously shared information about her even when the memories were acutely painful to recount. Simultaneously he learned the dark history of the bridge and met one man who’d witnessed one too many tragedies and decided to make a difference.
But still. People don’t like to talk about suicide—out of fear that saying it out loud will validate the idea for others who may be considering it, or that a magazine story would glamorize it, that printing words like leap or dive might inspire copycat acts. Suicide should be talked about though, directly and openly, because talking about it, especially with those who are severely depressed or signal that they have thoughts of harming themselves, can save lives.
The story you’ll find in this issue (" The Girl on the Bridge ,”) started with a press release about one woman, but it expanded into a story of many lives, competing visions, city history, and a subject surrounded by misunderstanding. If we did our job right, perhaps the story will also open the door to hope.