Robin Williams: Celebrity vs non-celebrity suicide

By Christine Stapleton

shutterstock_107614721Robin Williams.

Ernest Hemingway. Kurt Cobain. Marilyn Monroe. Vincent VanGogh. Sigmund Freud. Spalding Grey. Frida Kahlo. Shakir Stewart (Def Jam). Cleopatra. Junior Seau. Roy Raymond (founder, Victoria’s Secret). Socrates. Sylvia Plath. Hunter S. Thompson. L’Wren Scott. Virginia Woolf. Abbie Hoffman. David Carradine. Wendy O. Williams. Mary Kay Bergman (SouthPark voices) Robert Enke (soccer).

These are the suicides you hear about in the media. Because of their accomplishments and talent, their suicides supercede the hushed rule in newsrooms throughout the land: We don’t cover suicides unless it’s someone famous or caused a public spectacle.

Why, you ask, when journalists are so damn ruthless about ferreting out and publicizing the most private and embarrassing moments of other people’s lives do they not cover suicides? Publicly, editors will tell you that they do it out of respect for the families and loved ones of those who commit suicide. You can decide whether you want to believe that.

Here is the problem with that logic: It covers up the prevalence of suicide and mental illness. For every celebrity who commits suicide, there are countless others who have suffered just as much and took their lives, too.

For example, in 2012 there were 205 suicides in Palm Beach County, where I live. At the local newspaper, where I work, we covered two: a murder/suicide and a teenager who shot himself on a bench near his exclusive, private school.

As a reporter I have had to interview the parents, husbands, wives, children and friends of murder and accident victims. It’s not easy and most of the time they don’t want their loved one or themselves in the news. I get that. I respect that.

The last thing I want to do is call the parents of a teenager who hung herself or stepped in front of a train. But are we doing ourselves a disservice by not covering suicides? Are we stigmatizing suicide and mental illness even more by keeping it off the evening news unless the person is a celebrity?

We often write about people who die of breast cancer. Occasionally we report that someone died of AIDS. But people who are killed by their mental illness – no way.

I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. As someone who twice tried to kill herself and knows other who have, I want more attention, compassion and research dollars for mental illnesses. I want to shout “IT’S AN ILLNESS – NOT A WEAKNESS, PEOPLE!”

I don’t want to inflict more pain and suffering on those left behind. I don’t want them to feel ashamed or guilty. I don’t know what to do.

Woman on a hill image available from Shutterstock.



Suicide prevention: When the Second Amendment trumps the First

By Christine Stapleton

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Dealing with alcoholism and depression with a text message

By Christine Stapleton

The last thing an alcoholic wants, besides a hangover, is to be reminded that she has a “drinking problem.”

I know. Back in my drinking days I would avoid conversations about last night’s festivities – especially if I had been in a blackout most of the night. Which is why I think this will work: Txt message from the ER cuts binge drinking.

shutterstock_100665064Young adults who screened positive for a history of hazardous or binge drinking reduced their binge drinking by more than 50 percent after receiving mobile phone text messages following a visit to the emergency department, according to a study published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Researchers enrolled 765 young adult emergency patients with a history of hazardous drinking in the study. Hazardous drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for men and four or more drinks per day for women.

For 12 weeks, one-third received text messages prompting them to respond to drinking-related queries and received text messages in return offering feedback on their answers. The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal.

One-third received only text message queries about their drinking and one-third received no text messages.

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Flori-duh: Don’t bet on managed physical and mental health care for the poor

By Christine Stapleton

This month Florida became the first state to offer a Medicaid health plan designed for people with serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorders.

shutterstock_187286405This is remarkable because Florida is not known for its progressive and humane treatment of people with serious mental illnesses. In fact, Florida is the state that last year executed John Ferguson, a 65-year-old man with schizophrenia who believed that he was the immortal prince of God and was being executed because he could “control the sun.”

Ferguson’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued that he lacked a “rational understanding” of his execution, which violated the eighth amendment to the U.S. constitution. Did that stop Florida? Hell no. Florida is also ranked 49th of the fifty states in per capital funding for mental health.

So, what should we make of the news reported by Kaiser Health News that Connecticut-based Magellan Complete Care wants to coordinate physical and mental health care for Florida residents on Medicaid? Should we believe that the skies parted and Florida policymakers realized that the brain is connected to the rest of the body and that it only makes sense to provided coordinated care?

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Take off your watch. It’s making you depressed.

By Christine Stapleton

I don’t wear a watch. I have watches, very nice watches, in fact. I don’t even know where they are – probably in a drawer somewhere.

I don’t wear a watch because I have a thing with time. I learned early on in my recovery from alcoholism and depression that “time” was a problem for me. A very big problem.

I didn’t realize my “time” problem until a friend in recovery asked me one day, “What time is it?” I looked at my watch and told him the time. Then he asked again, “what time is it?” shutterstock_164743622And I looked at my watch again and told him the time.

“No,” he said. “What TIME is it?”

I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t know. You tell me, what time is it?”

“Now,” he said. I had a D’oh Homer Simpson moment and then understood what he was trying to tell me. I was not in the present. “That’s why I don’t wear a watch,” he said.

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60 hours without my antidepressants?

By Christine Stapleton

I went to visit my daughter this weekend. She lives about 2-1/5 hours away. Half way there I realized I had forgotten my medications.

I take three medications, two antidepressants and mood-stabilizer. I have been taking them for 7 years. Every day. Morning. Night. I don’t mess around and skip a day here or there. I take them without fail.

I did the math in my head. I took my last dose at 7 am Friday. I was not planning on getting home until at least 7 pm on Sunday. That would be 60 hours without my medications. Once I forgot to order a three-month supply of one of my antidepressants and ran out for about three days so I knew what it felt like to skip a few days without one of the medications.

shutterstock_151831541I had a headache – like my head was simultaneously going to implode and explode. My thoughts were thick, like I was thinking in mud. I was tired.

I had never gone as long as 60 hours without all three. I knew I would feel some kind of withdrawal. I just didn’t know what to expect.

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Depression: How do you tell your boss you can’t work?

By Christine Stapleton

I went back to work last week. I had been off several weeks after a tough, two-week, out-of-town assignment that brought me to my knees on the edge of my black hole.

In all, I was gone five weeks – some pre-planned vacation and some comp time. Still, when you’re out of the office for that long, for any reason, people are going to wonder why you have been gone so long.shutterstock_180918260

If you don’t have a mental illness – whether it’s depression or alcoholism or an anxiety disorder – you’ve probably never been confronted with these questions: How do you call in sick when your mental illness prevents you from work? What do you say when you go back to work after an extended absence  because of your mental illness?

When you have to answer these questions, you realize how much stigma there is about mental illness.

If you had to take off a couple of weeks because you had pneumonia, you would simply tell your boss that you could not work because you had pneumonia. But what do you say when your depression prevents you from working? How do you call in sick with depression?

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Depression and anger Part 2: How I vanquish my anger

By Christine Stapleton

Apparently, there is a correct way to swing a sledge hammer and an incorrect way.

I was doing it incorrectly, although it still felt pretty good. Luckily, Tommy, one of the coaches at my CrossFit gym, witnesses this old lady swinging a sledge hammer the wrong way and – without a snicker – taught me the correct way to swing a sledge hammer.

At my age, 55, I don’t expect I will swinging many sledge hammers. Still, it’s good to know. Why? Because sometimes I get mad. Really mad. I need to physically release my anger.shutterstock_194511182

For a long time I didn’t know how much anger I was carrying around. Invisible baggage accumulated over decades. Then, a major depression right-sized me and I asked for help. I learned anger was a part of my depression, even though I felt numb. I would not be well until I learned to deal with my anger.

Women don’t get many chances to express their anger. Unlike men, who grow up playing sports like football, hockey and rugby, we don’t have many sanctioned activities that allow us to release our anger. Sure, we can get gnarly on the tennis court or golf course, swinging away at the balls.

But other than that, what do we have? Bridge? Book club? Scrap booking?

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Get me a sledge hammer: Depression as anger turned inward

By Christine Stapleton

About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.

This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.shutterstock_178702403

My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.

I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.

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Justifying late-term abortions: Mother’s mental health is not enough

By Christine Stapleton

Last week Florida lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions during the third-trimester. A doctor who performs an abortion during the third trimester and anyone who assists can be charged with the third-degree felony.

shutterstock_152763305However, the law makes an exception when a “physician certifies in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, there is a medical necessity for legitimate emergency medical procedures for termination of the pregnancy to save the pregnant woman’s life or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”

Without wading into the debate over abortion, I would like to weigh in on the exception in the exception of  “a psychological condition.”

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Hoping for a Happy Ending
Check out Christine's book!
Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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