U.S. Representative Don Young made a trip to Alaska recently, stopping in at, among other places, a high school assembly, where he learned that blaming suicide on the survivors offends students who’ve lost a loved one. Young made apologies afterward, saying he never meant to offend, and that his words were ill-chosen.
According to the Star Tribune, Young was speaking to a group of students and teachers when he was asked about high rates of domestic violence and suicide in Alaska. He began to respond, mentioning alcohol abuse as a risk factor.
Unfortunately, at that point, Young began to discuss support from family and friends. While a good support system may be helpful to many people suffering from depression, he seemed to suggest that the inverse was also true: that those who commit suicide must lack a support system.
Since the students to whom Young was speaking had recently lost a classmate and friend to suicide, his words had a sharp edge, seeming to blame the students present for their friend’s death.
According to CBS, Young dug himself deeper still when students tried to point out that depression was a mental illness.
“Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?”
Young is also said to have called a student either a ‘smart-a**” or “a**hole” or perhaps both.
Young further offended many students when responding to the topic of same-sex marriage, which recently became legal in Alaska. He’s said to have compared the institution to bull sex, asking what you get when you have two bulls, and answering his own question with the word “Bullshazzle!” At that point the school’s principal, Amy Spargo, moved to end Young’s speech.
Young apologized through a spokesman, who emailed the school to say that the U.S. Representative was sorry for offending the students, and that he should have taken a more sensitive approach. The apology diverted to blame a student (apparently the one who argued that depression is an illness) for causing the problems.
However, a glance at Young’s public social media pages make it clear that his speech offends more than just students. On Facebook, Young shared a video from his time in Alaska, but the comments center around one school visit.
“Not only did you offend every student in that auditorium, but you offended several of us adults who have personally tried to assist this young man in getting help. His loss is very unfortunate and your lack of sympathy goes to prove your ignorance.
“I don’t want your apologies, I only want your resignation. I know many people who have committed suicide or have attempted suicide, and in no single case was it due to lack of family support.”
Some commenters call the Rep. out for commenting through a spokesperson instead of personally, or for apologizing to the school and not to the family of the suicide victim. Some speak out about mental health and causes of suicide. Though there are well over 100 comments, there is virtually no support or defense of the politician to be found in them.
If Representative Young was not previously aware that blaming suicide on the survivors offends, students, teachers, parents, and other constituents have made it very clear since his speech.