Responding To the Logan Paul Controversy, and His Response Video:

What you don’t know about Japan’s Aokigahara Forest

By Danielle Arena and Cheyenne Sykes

Posted on Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 5:36 PM PDT
 

Photo by Jordy Meow

Photo by Jordy Meow

Danielle Arena Reports

The popularity and mystery of Japan’s Aokigahara forest has been linked to author Seichō Matsumoto and his novel “Kuroi Jukai.” Matsumoto tells the story of a heartbroken lover who goes to the forest with the plan of committing suicide. The romantic imagery Matsumoto uses in his novel does not address the severity of the Aokigahara Forest and the tragedies that have occurred there.

Time Magazine’s Mahita Gajanan reports, “Japan, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, has seen declining rates in recent years — in 2016, 21,897 people committed suicide, the lowest level in more than two decades, according to a government report released last year,” and that, “The Aokigahara forest, also known as the ‘Sea of Trees,” remains a destination for people who want to commit suicide.”

To try a prevent and lower the suicide rate, the Japanese government have posted signs to dissuade visitors. These signs have positive messages such as, “Your life is a precious gift from your parents.” The Aokigahara Forest is not a place for disrespectful behavior or for comedy. Logan Paul, a social media influencer with millions of followers, attempted a humorous stunt in the forest in which he filmed an apparent suicide victim. This act by Paul was seen by viewers as horrifying and lacking respect of those who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.

On January 24, 2018, Paul posted a video apologizing for his insensitive actions. He began by interviewing Kevin Heinz, a suicide survivor who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge 17 years ago. The video then shows an array of news sources reporting on Paul’s decision to film a dead body at the Aokigahara Forest. Paul also speaks with Bob Forrest, founder of the Alo House Recovery Center, a long-term holistic drug & alcohol rehab. Forrest pushes Paul with tough questions, asking him if he ever knew anyone who has committed suicide, to which Paul replied, “No one, no one. That was part of the problem was just my ignorance.” Paul’s message throughout the video is that he no longer wants to be part of the problem, but part of the solution. Traveling to New York, Paul talks to Dr. John Draper, the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Paul ends his video by pledging to donate $1 million to various suicide prevention organizations, starting with $250,000 to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. His final message is that “you are not alone.”

The topic of suicide is not one to be taken lightly. People are viewing Paul’s decision to film inside the Aokigahara forest as a violation of privacy of the suicide victim and are urging others to stop viewing Paul’s videos.

Cheyenne Sykes Reports: A Personal Response To Logan Paul

Just as a brief warning, this article will discuss depression and suicide. If this will in anyway trigger you, please do not continue reading.

 

In the first few days of 2018, Logan Paul, a popular content creator for the web,  posted a controversial vlog within Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. Although many media outlets, celebrities and his peers on YouTube were highly critical of his actions, I wanted to take a different approach to the situation and not attack Paul directly. Yes, I am disgusted with Paul-- someone with such a massive following-- for abusing his power and influence to exploit a suicide victim for the general public. Yes, I am very disappointed with YouTube -- the online medium responsible for Paul’s rise to fame -- for taking little to no action or issuing a statement regarding the video until after Paul and his team took the video down themselves.

It is upsetting that many of Paul’s followers see nothing wrong with what he did; even his close family members referred to his critics as “haters.” Dominican University senior Tressa Furry, said: “It’s upsetting that people are so desensitized. Comedians have pushed a lot of limits as to what is taboo and what is not.”

The circumstances were deeply upsetting to me, and I’m also hopeful that websites like YouTube will make efforts to ensure videos like this will not surface again. Suicide is not a joke. This is a serious subject that impacts not just the victims or survivors, but the people around them as well.

As someone who continues to struggle with anxiety and depression, seeing someone exploit mental illness and suicide for attention, whether it be positive or negative, was painful and sickening. I was angry and hurt and it reminded me of a dark time in my life when I had similar thoughts and behaviors. For me, it felt like I was always alone and that nobody gave a damn about what happened to me or that nobody wanted me around, or that I was a burden not only to myself, but to others. Whether this was reality or perception, it didn’t matter; it was how I felt in those moments of doubt and despair. When people feel emotionally lost and alone, many don’t see that they have people around them who want to lift them up or get them the help that they desperately need. Even if I had been alone, there are still resources that are out there that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In an interview with Dominican Health Center Staff Mary Vidal (Health Services Coordinator) and Susana McKeough (Family Nurse Practitioner and Student Health Center Director), when asked about the reasons why some students don’t utilize the counselling services, they said, “Many students say that it doesn't work because they don’t have time, [are] not supported by the family, or for cultural reasons. Some may have not had the right ‘fit’ with a previous counselor.”

Luckily, I had family members and friends to encourage me to get the help that I needed, to battle this mental illness. I got through the most difficult part of my life by breaking down the wall that I had built up, and by allowing others to assist me in the healing process. It’s still a long way on the road to recovery, but I’m so grateful to the people who listened to my cry for help. In addition to talking to professionals, I found outlets that still continue to help when I’m struggling. The pain never really goes away, but what I do know is that the pain is fleeting and can with the right support, it can be easier to make it through to the next day.

Whether or not the effects of depression and anxiety can be genetic, McKeough and Vidal explained that “Depression and Anxiety tendencies can be hereditary, but [there are] also situational factors can influence or trigger feelings of depression and anxiety.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) did a report of the annual suicide rate of 2017 for the United States. In California, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the state, 2nd leading cause of death in people aged 25-34 and the 3rd leading cause of death in people aged 10-24. California is not an isolated case. Many states have statistics equal to California’s or higher. CBS News reports that there were more than 20 states with more suicides than California, including Florida and Missouri. Perhaps, one of the outcomes of this incident and others like it, are that it shines a light on the need to address mental health in order to prevent suicide.

While I can forgive Logan Paul for his ignorance in Japan, there is a part of me that still feels skeptical about his motives behind his response video on January 24th to both apologize and spread awareness. In the video, he promised to put forward one million dollars to the foundations that are helping to prevent suicide, and to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I genuinely want to believe that he regrets posting the vlog for which he was criticized, but it feels like he is trying to buy his way out or buy people’s forgiveness for what he did.


I respect where he is coming from and the fact that he wants to make a difference, but no amount of money is going to fix what happened. No amount of money is going to fix the damage he may have unintentionally inflicted, and no amount of money will fix the hurt that he potentially caused to those that are already suffering. Joking and making light of suicide is not something that is easily forgiven, even if the intention was not to cause harm.

I spoke with many members of the Dominican campus community about anxiety, depression and suicide. DU Senior Tressa Furry, Dr. Paul Raccanello, Dean of Students and a  friend who wishes to remain anonymous all shared their insights with me. My friend shared,  “Looking at other people’s happiness, especially at a young age, I remember being confused as to why I couldn’t feel that way as well. Now that I’m older, I understand what a serotonin deficiency is and why I couldn’t feel as happy as others, which was very alienating.”

According to Psychologist Dr. Diane Suffridge, who directs the counselling services at Dominican, in the Fall of 2017, 111 students requested counseling services and were seen. 51% were were being served for anxiety and stress (75 cases) and 29% of students were served for depression.

Dr. Raccanello explained  that “It is probably the number one issue on college campus, generally speaking. When we talk about ‘mental health’ we talk about a wide variety of issues; anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia …  it’s a wide spectrum. People are talking more about mental health, but I think that for many it is still an uncomfortable conversation because they are uncertain of the specifics or they don’t want to be offensive.” Dr. Racconello went on to emphasize  that “We have the resources to help students.”

I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay. If you are or anyone you know is struggling with depression or having suicidal thoughts, please either seek help or have them call or go the National Suicide Prevention Hotline website.

A member of our Dominican University community who wishes to remain anonymous, suggests that,  “If you’re a student diagnosed with depression and anxiety please know there are available resources at your university/college dedicated to assisting you. I encourage you to connect with the Counseling Services and Disability Services Office to learn more about available services.”

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741 in the United States.