Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murder in 2015 and died by suicide in 2017. Now his lawyer, Jose Baez, is publishing a book called Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez that controversially includes excerpts from Hernandez’s suicide notes.
The notes were addressed to Hernandez’s daughter, Avielle Jenkins-Hernandez, fiancée Shayanna Jenkins, and Baez, according to CNN. Hernandez wrote them and committed suicide in his jail cell just days after he was acquitted of two murder charges linked to a July 2012 drive-by shooting outside a Boston nightclub.
After his death, Hernandez was found to have a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that is linked to concussions and violent behavior.
Baez’s choice to not only mention the suicide notes but to give explicit details about them is questionable, based on recommendations given by Reporting on Suicide. The organization specifically requests that reporters avoid sensationalizing suicide and not reveal the contents of a suicide note if one is found.
“It’s not recommended because it doesn’t take into consideration the safety of at-risk individuals who are getting that information,” Phyllis Alongi, clinical director at the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Getting graphic details, including the contents of a suicide note, can have a negative impact on someone who is already vulnerable. It provides details which can be a trigger.”
Revealing this information also tends to rationalize the behavior. “Revealing the existence or contents of a suicide note conveys the message that there was some rationale for taking one’s life and possibly a beneficial rationale,” clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Therefore, the suicide had a purpose, result, and consequence that may imply it was beneficial for others. To convey such a message to the public is very dangerous, as it makes suicide seem meaningful.”
A person who is already vulnerable may also “identify with something stated and use as further evidence for their reasons to commit suicide,” clinical psychologist Kelly Tonelli tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Revealing this information can also “desensitize” the public to suicide and “glamorize” the act, Alongi says.
“In general, a suicide note is the writing of a mentally ill person in an especially bad place — it should not be seen as a clear representation of the individual’s ‘right mind,’” Tonelli says.
Suicides already have a copycat effect on the public, and this kind of information doesn’t help, Tonelli says. “Whenever a celebrity commits suicide, we see a jump in the number of suicides in the general population,” she says. “Why does this happen? A number of reasons: Vulnerable individuals now see suicide as a more viable option; vulnerable individuals think if the celebrity couldn’t hack it, how can I?; and the outpouring of sadness and grief for the loss of the celebrity creates a fantasy of how the vulnerable individual will be missed when he/she is gone.”
When it comes to discussing suicide, Mayer recommends framing it as an “empty act.” “It is an action that only has negative consequences on others, suicide has no meaning or purpose and accomplishes nothing. It only increases pain and suffering,” he says. “Taking one’s life is not just about you, it will have dangerous consequences on others.”
All proceeds from Baez’s book will go into a college fund for Hernandez’s daughter, the lawyer said, according to CNN, “so that she can know there’s a different side to the story of her father.”
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