Jul 11

Suicide Notes and Warnings: What’s Left Behind Or Not

It would seem that nothing could be closer to the truth of suicide than notes and letters left behind by those who kill themselves, but this is not the case; our expectations of how we think people should feel and act facing their own deaths are greater than the reality of what they do and why they do it. Suicide authority Ed Shneidman, for example, in commenting on the disappointing banality of many suicide notes, lets slip his hope, a common one, that the last recorded moments of life will afford a deep or tragic view of dying: ‘Suicide notes,’ he writes, ‘often seem like parodies of the postcards sent home from the Grand Canyon, the catacombs of the pyramids–essentially pro forma, not at all reflecting the grandeur of the scene being described or the depth of the human condition that one might expect to be engendered by the situation.’ Kay Redfield Jamison, from Night Falls Fast

It’s believed that approximately one third of those who attempt suicide leave a note. Pediatrician John Pestian and his research team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital have collected about 1300 of them toward the purpose of gaining a better understanding of why and how people choose this particular route.

In the following excerpt from an interview with Neil Conan, NPR, Pestian relates what’s been most striking so far:

The most similar thing in the notes that I found in reading was the loss of hope…Secondarily, what you see most often is these practical instructions. Remember to change the tires. Remember to change the oil. I drew a check, but I didn’t put the money in. Please go ahead and make the deposit…Other emotions are, you know, depression, a little bit of anger, not so much hate, but just, again, the whole idea of abandonment, and I just can’t go on any longer. I can’t deal with this any longer.

If you think reading 1300 suicide notes might be depressing…yes it is at times, he admits in a USA Today article. “But in the end, you’re doing whatever you can to help save lives, to help the human condition.” He estimates that in a couple of years this research will produce a tool that enables better assessment of suicidality.

A new ad campaign for Samaritans of Singapore, a suicide hotline, attempts to raise awareness of the signs of severe depression by creating ambigrams, in which what you read and interpret becomes wholly different when you see the same words upside down. Regarding suicidality, this campaign makes the important point that some individuals who in fact are not feeling okay may portray the opposite.

(On the other hand, if you show your willingness to listen, many on the way to attempting suicide do say how they actually feel.)

Three examples from the ad campaign:




Jason Headley, who created the brief humorous video “It’s Not About the Nail,” (seen in a previous post) has a short film (about 18 minutes) called To Say Goodbye in which a male staff person for “Care-A-Spondence” has the assigned task of writing a suicide note for a female customer.

Don’t watch this film, which you can find on Vimeo and elsewhere, if you’re expecting a happy ending.

Nov 29

Joshua Walters: Bipolar Disorder, Creativity, and Resources

“Maybe no one’s really crazy. Everyone is just a little bit mad. How much depends on where you fall in the spectrum. How much depends on how lucky you are.” (Joshua Walters)

Joshua Walters is a performer and mental health educator and speaker as well as a facilitator of the DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) Young Adults Chapter in San Francisco, which he co-founded. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The mission of DBSA is to offer “hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.” Also from their site: “Because DBSA was created for and is led by individuals living with mood disorders, our vision, mission, and programming are always informed by the personal, lived experience of peers.”

Various “Personal Wellness Tools“—including a Wellness Tracker and a variety of Toolbox topics, such as a Therapy Worksheet, both a “Trigger Tracker” and “Trouble Tracker,” and a Suicide Prevention Card—are made available by DBSA.

Walters has learned to put a more positive spin on the challenges of living with mania and hypomania than some. Here he is giving a TED talk:

A couple books mentioned in the clip are listed below along with pertinent reviews:

I. Clinical psychologist John D. Gartner‘s The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America (2005)

From Kirkus Reviews: “Gartner works the edges of manic-depressive disorder to explore a lesser-known syndrome: hypomania, ‘a mild form of mania, often found in the relatives of manic depressives.’ Hypomanics are full of ideas, energy, and sometimes insufferable self-confidence; they make decisions quickly, seldom look back, and generally view those who don’t get them as enemies or, at best, mere hindrances.”

II. Clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison‘s Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (1993)

Jamison, diagnosed with bipolar disorder herself, has written a number of well-regarded books on related issues, including her autobiography, An Unquiet Mind.

The following is an excerpt from Kirkus Reviews:

The basic argument here is ‘not that all writers and artists are depressed, suicidal, or manic. It is, rather, that a greatly disproportionate number of them are; that the manic-depressive and artistic temperaments are, in many ways, overlapping ones; and that the two temperaments are causally related to one another.’

…Lithium and newer drugs, she explains, often dampen creative highs while relieving victims of turmoil and suicidal lows, but calm periods at optimum serum blood levels may allow longer, more productive periods of creativity…