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‘A public health concern, not a criminal one’


We have three videos for you this week. But first, a couple of examples of deeply unhelpful responses to suicidal thinking.

From Yale, here is the story of a student who was forced to formally withdraw from the Ivy League school. “As a result of my expulsion from the college, I was even more depressed when I left than when I was admitted,” she writes. And from Toronto, here is the story of a woman who was refused entry by a U.S. border official and later was asked by another, “Were you suicidal in the spring?” The Toronto Star story notes that a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police “recently confirmed to the Star that information about Canadians who attempt or threaten suicide is filed by police services into the database and shared with the FBI and other agencies.”

The videos have a more empowering message.

This video features Alicia Beckingsale, or “Licy Be,” a 25-year-old from New Zealand. “When I was a teenager I struggled with deep depression and wanted to take my life,” she wrote in an email last month. “Earlier this year I was talking with a close friend who lost his brother to suicide only months earlier. I was sharing about my experience with suicide and depression, and then this idea came to me and I couldn’t shake it. It was as if I felt responsible to deliver this message in order to help reach out to others that are struggling with this.”

At the end of the video, there’s the visual suggestion that someone has jumped from a bridge. It’s part of a point that Alicia’s making about not noticing the signs until it’s too late. “I first saw the idea of the boy disappearing in a dream and I woke up with goosebumps knowing that I had to use that in the video,” she wrote. “I thought about having a positive ending, but unfortunately that just doesn’t happen in reality with suicide. However, the purpose of this video is to demonstrate the reality in the hope that there would be more positive endings to come!”

The TED organization has been quite open to featuring speeches by attempt survivors. Mark Henick is a Toronto case manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association and a board member for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. “Suicide is a public health concern, not a criminal one,” he says here, pointing out that the term “committed suicide” has been wrongly used since the early 1970s, when suicide was decriminalized in Canada. (One country where suicide remains a crime is India, but it looks like they’re trying to change that.)

The final video comes from Paul Quinnett, the head of The QPR Institute and an entertaining new blogger. “When I train physicians in how to screen for suicide risk, I often ask them, ‘Which is more difficult, conducting your first DRE (digital rectal exam) or asking if a patient is considering suicide?'” he writes. “Finding: DRE probes are easy, suicide probes are hard.”

His passion at the moment is pushing for Washington state to require primary care professionals to have at least six hours of training in suicide risk assessment. But it wasn’t just him testifying in the state capitol this month. Three young people who’ve been suicidal also spoke, and you can see them here at the 17:25 and 32:30 marks. “My story is a testament to the fact that treatment works and people do recover,” Enrique Garcia says. “But we need to catch them first, before it’s too late.”

4 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. It’s strange that disabled and very old and suffering are programmed to cling to life but on the other hand healthy and intelligent persons lose purpose of and interest in life and want to switch it off.


    • You’ve made that statement from complete ignorance, didn’t you? The lion’s share of suicides are, in fact, completed by elderly and disabled persons. That seemingly otherwise healthy and intelligent people can attempt suicide doesn’t negate the possibility of other causes, such as psychiatric disorders, being overwhelmed by circumstances in their lives, et al, that are likely not visible to someone just glancing in their general direction. I would hope that, since you’re actually looking at this page, you’re only taking the first step to alleviating your apparent need to make such statements.


      • I’d also add… the general picture of people that are suicidal, attempt or commit suicide is that of generally healthy and young (white, middle class etc). I’ve scoured the Internet for suicide prevention material and pay close attention to any media attention it is given and the faces one sees are overwhelmingly healthy looking, young and often people that have ‘everything going for them’ (think h.s. and college students with a fair amount of social privilege or famous people). Any ignorance in the Patels comment, I would say, is fueled by not just ‘stigma’ but the reluctance of even the most generous resources (working to ‘fight stigma’) to show images of people that may have the actual appearance of desperation. The mental health system in this country is, for many, near useless and they are left to fend for themselves. People that don’t fit the popular suicide prevention poster child image probably don’t have their stories told because they either aren’t around to tell them now or they don’t have any ‘glad I didn’t’, ‘life now has meaning’ happy ending to tell (they are too busy still getting by, some how not dead but not really alive and with no or minimal and likely demeaning mental health treatment).

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