When the media spins a story to tell the author’s narrative, rather than reality

When the media spins a story to tell the author’s narrative, rather than reality

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I read this article because I remembered reading about this incredibly sad suicide earlier this year: Driven to the end: Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin could do it all. Until it all became too much. – SFGate

This article is 14 pages of single spaced text. By page 3, her suicide is blamed on:

… young women and girls – are killing themselves at a rate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a national health crisis. Between 2007 and 2015, according to a CDC study, the suicide rate doubled among females aged 15 to 19 and reached a 40-year high. Major depressive episodes and suicide attempts have skyrocketed among women under 35, according to a 12-year analysis by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as a society fixated on collecting and comparing achievements seemingly has conditioned a promising generation of young people to ignore emotional alarms – insomnia, anxiety and depression – and work toward the next goal.

Sometimes that pressure comes from family or peer groups, and it can manifest itself in ways good and bad: pushing certain individuals to astonishing heights and others to alarming depths. Kelly, though, found herself at both extremes – climbing the Olympic medal stand three years before taking her own life in the bedroom of her Stanford apartment – and seemed determined from an early age to prove herself in increasingly intense arenas, only exacerbating her best and worst tendencies.

Not until page 7 do they mention, barely, that she had a bike crash and concussion shortly before this happened.

Not until page 10 does the author note a connection with her brain injury:

Kelly had become increasingly alarmed that either her concussion or her suicide attempt had caused permanent brain damage, and she remained anxious about life after cycling and school. She had, after her hospital discharge, exchanged emails with a staffer at Stanford’s student health center, and the staffer expressed increasing concern that Kelly hadn’t scheduled an appointment with a mental health specialist.”

By the end of the 14 pages, there is only a rambling connection between her brain injury and suicide. We are left with the earlier suggestion “that young people in the United States – and, in particular, young women and girls – are killing themselves …” (Men commit suicide at a rate 4 times greater than women but the rate is now rising faster among women.)

After her death, a clinician wrote of the impacts that brain injuries can have on victims and specifically discussing Catlin’s case:

“After her concussion, she started embracing nihilism. Life was meaningless. … She could no longer concentrate on her studies or train as hard. She couldn’t fulfill what she felt were her obligations to herself; she couldn’t live up to her own standards. She couldn’t realize that what she needed to do was get away and rest, heal.” [People with brain injuries are often not in the best position to understand their situation — Ed]


What are those consequences? Concussion symptoms can fill books, and do. Headache, double vision, and balance difficulties are the most obvious problems, but the less visible symptoms can be the most insidious and difficult to manage: impaired memory, attention challenges, sleep disorders, mood swings, and a feeling that, as one of my clients described it, “My mind just feels cloudy all the time.”

Sadly, it is far more likely she committed suicide due to her brain injury than because “young people … in particular, young women and girls – are killing themselves”.

After reading this far too lengthy news article, I am perplexed as to what the author was trying to accomplish. The primary message is that young women are suffering from peer or self imposed pressure, leading to depression and suicide. Yet the reality of this terribly sad story (I tear up just reading about her death, again), is the connection to her serious brain injury.

Note – I have had six TBIs, including a skull fracture and multiple knock out blows, half in bike crashes – including breaking bike helmets – and falls. TBI is serious and may have profound effects, including long term effects on victims. Paradoxically, many with “mild” injuries suffer debilitating effects long term, while some with more serious injuries recover better. I view myself as the luckiest person in the world and am incredibly grateful that I came through all these as well as I did.


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