Archives for Suicide

Public Policy

Why the military can’t get suicide prevention right

Last Friday, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense released a report called the Suicide Event Report Data Quality Assessment. I had no idea what the assessment was about but I am devoted to suicide prevention and intrigued by data so I gave the 100-page report a read.

When an active service member commits suicide or attempts suicide, a Suicide Event Report is compiled. The report is an investigation of the suicide and circumstances leading up to it. It is a sort of psychological autopsy that is supposed to provide military leaders with reliable information on suicide risk factors that will assist in designing effective suicide prevention efforts.

The IG decided to investigate how Suicide Event Reports are compiled after finding a high number of  "don't know/data unavailable" responses to questions in the 2011 Annual Report - the most recent year available.  Here are the questions that received the most "don't know/data unavailable" reponses: You would think that these are among the most important questions in determining why someone committed suicide. So, why couldn't the folks assigned to complete these reports answer these questions?
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In My Experience

How the Media Covers Suicide: Day 2

Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today's session. #suicidereporting
Today we learned some really wonderful techniques on how to cover suicide. Unfortunately, they aren't very practical.

For example, it was suggested that we not use the word "suicide" in a headline. Really? Not only does it become impossibly difficult to write a headline about a suicide and not use the word "suicide," in these days of SEO-driven journalism, you must put the word "suicide" in the headline or your editor will.

Headlines are no longer about the sexiest verb we can find. Headlines are about SEO and using words that Google Trend tells us will attract readers. Suicide is one of those words.

We were also given suggestions on how to speak with family members at the scene. First of all, if you go to a suicide scene and there are any family members present, the cops aren't going to let you speak with them until they have ruled the death a suicide and not a homicide. This means you won't have a prayer of getting an interview with a family member until the cops have finished their interviews.

I've been doing this for 30+ years and the chances of  family members wanting to speak with you after what they have been through - the suicide itself and then an interview with the cops - are slim to none. With homicides, you can often get a family member to talk and even give you a photo of the victim. But suicide - no way.

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General

How the media covers suicide: Day 1

Covering Suicide and Mental Illness is a three-day seminar for journalists sponsored by The Poynter Institute, The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Here are my thoughts on issues covered during today's session. #suicidereporting
What the DSM is to mental health, the AP Stylebook is to journalism. The Stylebook is our Bible. It not only tells us where and when to put our commas, it provides journalists with a uniform set of rules for grammar, principals and practices.

The Associated Press first published the Stylebook in 1953 and updates it every year. On March 7, 2013 - three months after the Sandy Hook school shooting - the AP added an entry on mental illness to the Stylebook. Below is an excerpt from the guidelines, the new industry standard:
mental illness Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. A person’s condition can change over time, so a diagnosis of mental illness might not apply anymore. Avoid anonymous sources. On-the-record sources can be family members, mental health professionals, medical authorities, law enforcement officials and court records. Be sure they have accurate information to make the diagnosis. Provide examples of symptoms.

Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression.

Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story.

Do not assume that mental illness is a factor in a violent crime, and verify statements to that effect. A past history of mental illness is not necessarily a reliable indicator. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and experts say most people who are violent do not suffer from mental illness.

Avoid unsubstantiated statements by witnesses or first responders attributing violence to mental illness. A first responder often is quoted as saying, without direct knowledge, that a crime was committed by a person with a “history of mental illness.” Such comments should always be attributed to someone who has knowledge of the person’s history and can authoritatively speak to its relevance to the incident.

Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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General

How the media covers suicide and mental health

I am on a plane, flying to Washington, DC. For the next three days I will be immersed in suicide - specifically, how the media covers suicide and mental health.

The seminar is being sponsored by The Poynter Institute, the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute and the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. As a journalist, this is a topic that is especially dear to me: I know people who have killed themselves, I’ve attempted twice...
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Living with Depression

Robin Williams: Celebrity vs non-celebrity suicide

Robin 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...
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General

Suicide, Guns and Free Speech

I live in Florida. Land of the profoundly weird and frequently stupid. Like the guy charged with illegally feeding an alligator after the gator bit off his hand. Or an image of the Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich. We have wild pythons big enough to eat deer and a wanna-be plastic surgeon who injected women's derrieres with Fix-a-Flat (Don't try this at home.)

On July 30, we learned that the Florida Department of Health - with the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott - would appeal a federal judge's recent ruling that blocked the implementation of a new law that barred physicians from asking their patients about guns. With this appeal, Florida has set the gold standard for government-sanctioned waste and stupidity.

Why would a doctor ask a patient about guns, you ask? There are a lot of reasons. Maybe a doctor wants to know if there are guns in a patient's home because 2,793 children and teens were killed by firearms in 2009. About one third of those deaths - 938 - were accidental or suicide. Maybe the doctor wants to know if the guns in a child's home are trigger-locked or safely stored in a gun safe.

Maybe a doctor stitching the busted lip of a woman abused by her husband wants to know if there are weapons in the home. Or maybe a patient has depression and the doctor knows that about half of the 36,000 people who commit suicide every year do so with a gun and most of those people have a mental illness. There are many good reasons for a doctor would ask these questions.

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General

Suicides in the Military – A Daily Dilemma

On the suicide front, there was some really bad news and a shred of good news on the front page of my local newspaper last week. The bad news: 154 active duty, American troops killed themselves during the first 155 days of this year. That's nearly one suicide every day. What this means is that more troops are dying of suicide than bullets or IEDs.

The shred of good news is that this story ran on the front page of our local newspaper - above the fold. Even Aljazeera ran it as the lead story on its homepage. Unfortunately, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times did not run the story on their front pages.

But at least some editors around the country thought it was important enough news to get on the front page. Which is really good news.

Newspapers generally don't cover suicides unless the suicide has inconvenienced our lives, has a high rubber-necking score or you are famous. I know this is morbid, but I have been a journalist for 30 years and I know about these things.

For example, if someone jumps from a highway overpass during rush hour causing a massive traffic jam - that is news. Or person shoots himself at the local shopping mall - that's news. When famed NFL linebacker Junior Seau puts a gun to his chest and pulls the trigger - that's news.
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General

Suicide Prevention on Facebook: Good Luck with That

You never forget the ceiling after a suicide attempt. You finally open your eyes and there it is. An expletive follows, then you assess the physical damage. If you are like me, and your attempt involved pills and alcohol, the physical fatigue, nausea, remorse and anger are beyond words. I know. I was a sick, troubled young woman. It was the 1970's - decades before the discovery of many antidepressants and the founding of Facebook.
I am now on both.
I am devoted to my antidepressants and Facebook. I am on both daily. I have spent a lot of time researching my antidepressants - how and why they work and their side-effects. As for Facebook, I watched a movie about its young founders.

In my experience, the only connection between Facebook and suicide were the tragic stories about young people who had killed themselves after posting their intentions on Facebook.
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Coping with Depression

Fatal Depression: Hope vs Physical Pain

One of my girlfriends called last night and left a message. I played it this morning. Her boyfriend killed himself. He was such a great guy. Probably one of the kindest, gentlest men I had ever known and equally manly - a commercial fisherman.

He was only in his 40s but his rheumatoid arthritis had gotten really bad over the last few years. He had an ankle replacement and picked up one of those horrible infections in the hospital that nearly killed him.

He was in constant pain. Unrelenting pain - non-stop fuel for depression. He didn't bring it up unless you asked but you would see it in his face and the tightness of the muscles in his back and shoulders. He couldn't work. He couldn't do any of the activities he loved to do. My girlfriend, a saint, became the sole provider. It was hard on her. It was hard on him. Throughout it all there was the physical pain. He hated taking the pain medication but without it, the pain was too much.

I won't go into the details but he was thoughtful to the end, leaving a note and doing "it" far from their home.
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