He had a name, and a face
Loow's suicide victim revealed
He had a name, and a face
Rest in peace, Zal Chapgar, the 23-year-old who jumped to his death from a Philadelphia highrise hotel on Monday:
He had been suffering from depression and mental illness for the last year, his family said. Because he was an adult, their ability to help him find the treatment he needed was limited.
"It was so hard for us to get him help," his sister, Jasmine, said. "Everything was a struggle."
Police are calling his death a suicide.
Chapgar was a champion wrestler and played lacrosse and football, and displayed a competitive intellect to match. His friends recall being dazzled by the heady concepts he'd want to explore and the irrepressible drive with which he pursued them.
One important side to this story. Chapgar's suicide only received coverage in the newspaper because of longstanding -- and possibly outdated -- journalistic rules. The guidelines haven't changed much since I entered daily journalism 27 years ago: Suicides only make the paper if they involve famous people or a highly public death, which is what happened in the case of Chapgar, who lept from the top of Loews Philadelphia Hotel onto a busy street in Center City. (Increasingly, and sadly, we've seen some coverage of teen suicides as well.)
But the truth is that there are far too many Zal Chapgars in the world -- taleneted and promising everyday people, brought down needlessly by the scourges of mental illness and depression. Most victims who succumb die alone, and unpublicized, and the culmulative result is a lack of public awareness over how serious this problem -- which rips so many families apart -- remains in America.
Compare public concern about mental illness to our sky-high level of political awareness and debate about crime and murder, when so much of the local pages of the newspaper are filled with the bloody shootings of the day. When we have a mayoral race here in Philadelphia, the candidates are bombarded with questions about crime rates and gun control. Mental health programs? Not so much.
But depression actually kills more Americans before their time than a bullet does -- a lot more. In 2004, researchers say that 32,439 Americans died by suicide and that as many as 90 percent were the result of factors like mental illness and substance abuse. That same year, the murder tally in the United States was almost exactly half of that -- 16,137.
We can all agree that families are entitled to their privacy if they desire it -- which is the understandable primary reason the media tended to avoid such stories for so long. But times change -- we live in a more open world, and I've seen a lot of people over the last couple of years who've written articles or taken to the blogs to write about loved ones, people who desperately wanted to talk, who wanted to share their loss with others who've suffered the same ordeals.
The Philadelphia media did a good job telling the sad story of Zal Chapgar, but only because of the horrific facts of his death and the public reaction. How many more Zal Chapgars are out there silently waiting for help?