The Lived Experience of Ostracism

h/t whatnot

I first discovered C. Fred Alford’s work about the experiences of whistle blowers. In it, he describes what constitutes “knowledge as disaster”, and my experiences jibes almost perfectly with this list:

“What must the whistle-blower forsake in order to hear his own story?

* That the individual matters.

* That law and justice can be relied upon.

* That the purpose of law is to remove the caprice of powerful individuals.

* That ours is a government of laws, not men.

* That the individual will not be sacrificed for the sake of the group.

* That loyalty is not equivalent to the heard (sic) instinct.

* That one’s friends will remain loyal even if one’s colleagues do not.

* That the organization is not fundamentally immoral.

* That it makes sense to stand up and do the right thing. (Take this literally: that it “makes sense” means that it is a comprehensible activity.)

* That someone, somewhere who is in charge knows, cares, and will do the right thing.

* That the truth matters, and someone will want to know it.

* That if one is right and persistent, things will turn out all right in the end.

* That even if they do not, other people will know and understand.

* That the family is a haven in a heartless world. Spouses and children will not abandon you in your hour of need.

* That the individual can know the truth about all this and not become merely cynical, cynical unto death.

Not only is it hard to come to come to terms with these truths, but when one finally does, it seems one is left with nothing.”

Now plug in this list to Smart’s diagram below.

Multimotive model of reactions to interpersonal rejection experiences.Smart Richman, L., & Leary, M. (2009). Reactions to discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and other forms of interpersonal rejection: A multimotive model. Psychological Review, 116 (2), 365-383 DOI: 10.1037/a0015250

That, in a nutshell, is my experience. Ostracism is a cruel death sentence where all of the means to sustain oneself are intentionally withheld. The victim is used as an object of ridicule, contempt and alienation. The dying is slow, and there is full self awareness of what’s happening. Think of open heart surgery being performed without end, night and day without anesthesia, where the surgical team continually ignores the cries for help and instead makes jokes about the patient and his plight.

That is ostracism. Alford describes whistle-blowers who are doomed, but somehow, he never connects their experiences to ostracism. He discusses living as though one is already dead. Yup, that’s ostracism, because in the eyes of those who know and those who commit it, the victim as person has been murdered and only a ghost remains. But because the ghost has a heartbeat and is still enfleshed, it’s an object used for entertainment. In this case it’s used to create a feeling of superiority and legitimacy by degrading the victim as an unworthy, repulsive “other”.

I have been an other for time out of time. There is no re-entering society. I have been a most compliant patient patient and have repeatedly tried and failed to find a job, volunteer, make a friend beyond the most superficial of acquaintance level, and find any meaning or purpose in continuing to exist this way and there is none. In writing about some of my experience, I attracted a cyber stalker nurse and her band of bullying nurses, ambulance drivers and a Texas ER doc who wrote that “if she’s still alive we can make fun of her”. I was diagnosed as having persecutory delusions because my story “reads like a novel.” The outpatient psychiatrist to whom my case was assigned – she sure as hell didn’t volunteer – is married to the CEO of a competing organization in which I had been an inadvertent whistle-blower. In that organization, the mid level manager and director paranoia ran on high octane, and ironically, I wasn’t paranoid enough to save myself.

The paranoid whistle-blower is absolutely fight (sic) that his organization is not just out to fire him, but to obliterate him or her. The whistle-blower’s paranoia is an accurate emotional reading of an emotional reality: the one who has become the scapegoat cannot just be dismissed, but must be destroyed, so that others will know.

It is this aspect of paranoia that is the most difficult of all for an outsider to come to terms with because it represents a truth that is hard to know: that if the organization feels sufficiently threatened by the individual, it will remove him or her. Not just beyond the margins of the organization, but all the way to the margins of society. The average whistle-blower of my experience is a 55-year-old nuclear engineer working behind the counter at Radio Shack.

I was so desperate for help that I eventually sought it from the mental health non-system system, knowing full well that I would be placing myself in the hands of providers who were as likely to treat me with contempt as those who ostracized me did. All of my concerns were validated. For my troubles, I was diagnosed with stigmatizing labels, received treatment which resulted in metabolic, immune and cardiac derangements, was repeatedly deceived, humiliated, degraded and dehumanized, and was coerced and threatened. Physical problems were not diagnosed and treated, but instead were recorded as being somatizations and dismissed, if they were acknowledged at all. I cannot expect to receive competent healthcare from any provider who accesses my medical record because I am permanently and prominently labeled as the “xx year old homeless patient with extensive psych history”. When I pointed out multiple examples in the medical record of that to the outpatient psychiatrist, she sent a note to some of the offenders very politely requesting them not to do that anymore, and she proudly relayed that to me. But still it continued, and having been on the provider side, I know damn well that once patients are labeled, that they are treated with contempt, do not receive even minimally acceptable care, and they suffer for it with higher morbidity and mortality rates.

I took myself off every prescribed medication as none had helped, some were prescribed to mitigate the adverse effects of others, and many had caused direct harm. I read my medical record, identified what lab and diagnostic values were abnormal, and then I did all of the self care activities that I could do with my resources to reverse the damage.

But ostracism can’t be treated with medications and meditation. It requires a real physical friend, a network of professional/work peers, and a place in the social order. None of those are available to me.

Stillman, et al, describe life without meaning and purpose:

Why should social exclusion reduce the sense of life as meaningful? The pervasive reliance on social connection as humankind’s biological strategy entails that people are deeply motivated to connect with other people as a fundamental aspect of nearly all human striving. Meaning itself is acquired socially. Hence to be cut off from others is potentially to raise the threat of losing access to all socially mediated meanings, purposes, and values.

The formation and maintenance of positive close relationships can aptly be characterized as one of the primary motivations for human beings (Buss, 1990; Maslow, 1968). This pervasive drive has been described as the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). We define social exclusion as a perceived deficit in belongingness.

Oh, belongingness. Joiner has something to say about that:

The theory posits that serious suicidal behavior will not occur unless an individual has both the desire to commit suicide and the ability to do so. Two factors contribute to an individual’s desire for suicide, a thwarted sense of belongingness and a sense of perceived burdensomeness on others, while the ability to commit suicide can be acquired over time through habituation to the physical and mental pain involved in self-injury.

I have been cut off from a place in society. The mental image I have is the astronaut in 2001 whose oxygen line has been snipped by HAL, the malign robot. At least the astronaut suffocates quickly in the absolute freezing void of space. His awareness of his predicament is full, but brief.

Not so the ostracized, who have to find their way in a hostile wilderness which is incompatible with life. I am out of place everywhere. There is no place to escape to. There is no respite.

In my everyday world, I go places to kill time. To use up the eternal isolation. To go just for the sake of movement. There is no reason for a journey. There is no destination. I try to keep everything out of focus, like looking sideways out a car window, because any conscious realization of my plight is too excruciating to bear, even for a moment. Time has no meaning. There are no holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, wedding, births, deaths, or special events by which to measure life. There is no quality of life. Everything adds up to zero. It is exhausting purposeless, meaningless, hamster wheel work, which is unending.

The psychiatrist conflated psychological assessment with treatment (not just her – I have found this with all mental health providers across disciplines), and I find this in the literature, as well. Assessment of depression, chronic severe insomnia and suicidal ideation is intrusive and painful, and yet, that is the extent of what she did at each visit. I had nothing else to share. My story was invalidated by diagnosing it as delusional. I will not refer to it again. It is not able to be heard by anyone. And I don’t want to cause anyone distress, which this obviously does.

It reminds me of times when people who knew what was happening to me would turn away when they saw me, lest they be seen with me and thus perceived as being at risk for ostracism themselves. There’s nothing like having people literally run from you to bring home how your life is destroyed.

She asked me what I was reading, but I’d reported to her my increasingly and consistently poor ability to comprehend, let alone, remember what I’ve read. I no longer read anything longer than a headline. Culling the literature for this blog post is taking me an extraordinarily long time. It probably reads as disjointed and not terribly well-reasoned. My cognitive ability and memory stink, to use the technical term. Yet, I can’t distinguish whether my nonstop efforts to keep everything out of focus, and so to minimize the consciousness of my predicament is the cause of my ever worsening cognition or just an effect of ongoing isolation.

Except for the visits to the psychiatrist, I have not had a single substantive conversation with another person for many years. And I wouldn’t really call the content of the visits conversation. In reality, I was always on tenterhooks trying to not evince distress, lest she decide to forcibly treat me.

I’ve lost the ability to have a social conversation. I can’t relate to others because I have no social commonalities – no family experiences, no contacts with people considered friends, no work role, no social role – nothing on which to any longer identify with others. When I was still trying to regain involvement via volunteering, as soon as someone got a whiff of my isolation via lack of those connections, they would abruptly cut off the conversation. I never heard from any of them again. The psychiatrist had been told this repeatedly when she poked and prodded into why I no longer sought outside activities. That amounted to self punishment. It’s painful to be rebuffed and excluded over and over and over. I am a slow learner, but I finally got the lesson: in order to avoid inflicting pain on myself, do not try to go where you are not welcome. That would be everywhere.

But she did it herself. She’s in a position in which, if she were to go out of role, granted, she could have provided me networking referrals to jobs.

But of course, she didn’t. Boundaries, you know. I was an assigned case, a cluster of pathological symptoms. Not a person, not someone with advanced education and related professional experience, not even a plain old person. She made two specific suggestions about how she saw me being able to contribute: to serve as a personal care attendant (adult baby sitter and butt wiper) or as a pet sitter. As if that wasn’t confirmation of my deemed worthlessness. Early on I had given her a copy of my vitae, and to her credit, she read what I had offered to her via a sample of my writing and the Alford article referenced here. And I don’t believe that she conducted therapy as a rule. I’m pretty sure I was an exception and guess that she primarily practiced psychopharmacology along with her administrative duties.

In my medical record, it turns out that her sole treatment goal for me was to keep me “in the realm of suicidal ideation. Dx: existential despair, but no worse than usual.” And that was the most positive thing written in my entire medical record. How is that compatible with life?

Stupid me. If I had gotten my records earlier, I could have saved myself the repeated distress of being “clinically assessed” (read psychologically debrided without anesthesia with wounds left gaping) and left to try to forget until the next session of torture and tell.

In my world, no one returns phone calls and emails. I received a total of 6 pieces of US mail last year (not addressed to “or resident”) – all from organizations requiring paperwork and none from individuals or anyone who knows me personally. I used to keep NPR on to hear reasonable, non-violent human voices. But I finally stopped because I often couldn’t follow the patter and it became just more intrusive and irritating noise. Now I just keep a fan running to drown out gunshot season – any loud abrupt noise especially during open window weather. I exist in a noisy world but with more silence than a monastery.

I can’t get any enjoyment out of any experience. Food tastes like nothing. Everything is a tone of grey and shadow. Aromas that in the past evoked pleasant memories are undetectable, and most aromas smell foul. Music is just notes, too loud and evoking nothing. People are nothing but harbingers of pain and dread. No one has voluntarily touched me except to perform medical procedures using my body as just an object, such as blood drawing and injecting a joint, in many years. I know better than to reach out a hand or to offer a pat on the shoulder. It would most decidedly not be welcomed.

There is no reason to prolong this, but my attempts at providing my own euthanasia failed. The LD50’s weren’t enough, and I don’t have the means to provide myself with a peaceful and painless death. I’ve come to realize that a painful death is preferable to this unending dying.

Ostracism means that there is no burden to anyone. Society has already unburdened itself of me.

Ostracism is a death sentence, and every person who knows that it’s been imposed on someone and yet who does not intervene, is a member of that judge and jury.

I can’t stand the notion that the rest of my natural lifespan is going to be spent in this wholly silent, totally isolated and destitute way of existing. It’s enforced insanity. The conditions explain why most whistle blowers get sick and die early.

Alford, C. Fred (2007). Whistle-blower narratives: the experience of choiceless choice Social Science, Volume 74 (1), 223-248

Smart Richman, L., & Leary, M. (2009). Reactions to discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and other forms of interpersonal rejection: A multimotive model. Psychological Review, 116 (2), 365-383 DOI: 10.1037/a0015250

Stillman, T., Baumeister, R., Lambert, N., Crescioni, A., DeWall, C., & Fincham, F. (2009). Alone and without purpose: Life loses meaning following social exclusion Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (4), 686-694 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.007

Van Orden, K., Merrill, K., & Joiner Jr., T. (2005). Interpersonal-Psychological Precursors to Suicidal Behavior: A Theory of Attempted and Completed Suicide Current Psychiatry Reviews, 1 (2), 187-196 DOI: 10.2174/1573400054065541

Williams, Kipling D (2001). Ostracism: The Power of Silence 2001 Other: 1572306890


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Previously I noted that disparate studies suggest that incessantly assessing suicide risk without providing distressor relief may actually kindle – make worse – suicidality.  Over the recent past this has been my experience. The chief source of “treatment” such as it is, is by serving as a lab rat in studies.  I have been subjected to incredibly intrusive and distressing assessments on a very frequent basis.  I haven’t responded to any of the treatments and have instead had side effects including a liver injury from one – where the CRO (for profit contracted research organization) and IRB disappeared into the ether and left me to my own devices.

Last week I served as a subject that I thought wouldn’t involve distress or harm because I needed $$ to pay for treatment I received as a result of the liver injury.  Well, the assessment was awful to the extent that I called a crisis hotline – was treated to a rude and dismissive response and then the crisis provoker hung up on me. “Just read a book,” she commanded.  And,
“I’ve never been suicidal,” she crowed.

I lost time after that – a few days at least.  Apparently I threw the phone away, which makes sense.  No one calls me, and it isn’t needed since no one responds to calls for help, either.  One cost reduced.

I’m withdrawing from the other studies.  I can’t tolerate the distress.

I used to blog to try to stay current in health policy and clinical practice, but I’m too far gone to do that or to care.

So I’m signing off at this juncture with a link to what looked to be a thoughtful and fairly comprehensive report about the state of suicidality “treatment” in the US with some Western countries’ best practices thrown in.

And a plea to offer a humane death for those of us ostracized by you.  There’s a difference in wanting to hurt oneself and desiring a peaceful death. I failed at finding a means to the latter, and am forced to resort to the former.  That is cruel and unusual punishment for being deemed a worthless freak.

Yale Open Philosophy Course: The Suicide Lectures

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The course is entitled, The Philosophy of Death, taught by Professor Shelly Kagan at Yale University in 2009. Each lecture is just under an hour.  The written transcript and reading references are available on the individual lecture pages.  The course link above will take you to the introductory lecture and all of the lecture links.

Course Index

Philosophy of Death
The Nature of Persons: Dualism vs. Physicalism
Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part I
Introduction to Plato‘s Phaedo; Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part II
Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part III
Arguments for the Existence of the Soul, Part IV; Plato, Part I
Plato, Part II: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul
Plato, Part III: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)
Plato, Part IV: Arguments for the Immortality of the Soul (cont.)
Personal Identity, Part I: Identity Across Space and Time and the Soul Theory
Personal Identity, Part II: The Body Theory and the Personality Theory
Personal Identity, Part III: Objections to the Personality Theory
Personal identity, Part IV; What matters?
What Matters (cont.); The Nature of Death, Part I
The Nature of Death (cont.); Believing You Will Die
Dying Alone; The Badness of Death, Part I
The Badness of Death, Part II: The Deprivation Account
The Badness of Death, Part III; Immortality, Part I
Immortality Part II; The Value of Life, Part I
The Value of Life, Part II; Other Bad Aspects of Death, Part I
Other Bad Aspects of Death, Part II
Fear of Death
How to Live Given the Certainty of Death
Suicide, Part I: The Rationality of Suicide
Suicide, Part II: Deciding Under Uncertainty
Suicide, Part III: The Morality of Suicide and Course Conclusion

There are three suicide lectures.  Part I and transcript, Part II and transcript and Part III and transcript may be viewed at the links.  From the latter part of the Morality of Suicide lecture:

So, the utilitarian position is in the middle. It doesn’t say suicide’s never acceptable, doesn’t say suicide is always acceptable. It says, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s sometimes acceptable; it depends on the facts. It depends on the results. It depends on comparing the results of this action, killing yourself, to the alternatives open to you. We have to ask, is your life worse than nothing? Is there some medical procedure available to you that would cure you? If there is, and even if your life is worse than nothing, that still doesn’t make it the best choice in terms of the consequences. Getting medical help is a preferable choice in terms of the consequences.

We can even think of cases where your life is worse than nothing, you’d be better off dead, and there is no medical alternative of a cure available to you, but for all that, it still isn’t morally legitimate to kill yourself in terms of the utilitarian outlook. Because, as always, we have to think about the consequences for others. And there may be others who’d be so adversely affected by your death that the harm to them outweighs the cost to you of keeping yourself alive. Suppose, for example, that you’re the single parent of young children. You’ve got a kind of moral obligation to look after them. If you were to die, they’d really have it horribly. It’s conceivable then, in cases like that, the suffering of your children, were you to kill yourself, would outweigh the suffering that you’d have to undergo were you to keep yourself alive for the sake of your children. So, it all depends on the facts.

Still, if we accept the utilitarian position, we do end up with a moderate conclusion. In certain circumstances suicide will be morally justified — roughly speaking, in those cases where you’re better off dead and the effects on others aren’t so great as to outweigh that. Those will be the paradigm cases in which suicide makes sense or is legitimate, morally speaking, from the utilitarian perspective.

Watch it on Academic Earth

Does Repeated Suicide Assessment Give Salience to Suicidal Behavior?

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Anecdotally, I avoid situations in which I am assessed for suicidality.  It’s intrusive, distressing, and the assessment isn’t used to provide relief from the distress.  For me, it’s a well known risk:harm without any benefit.

“Generally speaking, there is no history of providing psychiatric treatment in the emergency room setting,” says Elizabeth Wharff, director of the Emergency Psychiatry Service at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Since the late 1990s, we have seen a significant increase in the number of cases where an adolescent comes to our emergency room with suicidality and needs inpatient care, but there are no available psychiatric beds anywhere in the area.”

Given that the highest known demographic risk for suicide is that of previous suicide attempt, a couple of studies seem to lead to the notion that the current standard of practice of repeated and frequent assessment of suicidality without treatment to reduce the underlying distressors may actually be contributing to the development of suicidal behavior.

In the first study, demographics of suicide risk after the first hospitalization for a mental illness was explored.

Patients with any major psychiatric disorder are at significant risk for suicide after their first hospital visit, according to new research.
Dr. Caine noted that although rates of suicide were less than what other researchers have estimated in the past, they were still quite substantial.

“I think this study really teaches us that all those prior results were in the right direction, but we’re now seeing much more clearly what the proper magnitude is, and what the burden of suicide is.”

“You can also clearly see that the suicide risk continues to climb over years. Certainly there’s a steep climb in the first year after hospitalization, but it continues to climb. So, this isn’t something you think about just the first day or week or month. This is something you think about for years,” he concluded.

It would be reasonable to think that hospitalized patients would have been frequently assessed for suicidality and behavior without receiving any treatment to reduce distressors other than masking symptoms with psychotropic medications.  The overall hospital experience is so antitherapeutic and noxious that overwhelmingly, patients avoid rehospitalizations. But they may leave with heightened acclimation to suicidality by way of the concept discussed in the following study.

The second study deals with understanding mortality salience:

Why did the approval ratings of President George W. Bush— who was perceived as indecisive before September 11, 2001—soar over 90 percent after the terrorist attacks? Because Americans were acutely aware of their own deaths. That is one lesson from the psychological literature on “mortality salience” reviewed in a new article called “The Politics of Mortal Terror.”
The fear people felt after 9/11 was real, but it also made them ripe for psychological manipulation, experts say. “We all know that fear tactics have been used by politicians for years to sway votes,” says Cohen. Now psychological research offers insight into the chillingly named “terror management.”

The authors cite studies showing that awareness of mortality tends to make people feel more positive toward heroic, charismatic figures and more punitive toward wrongdoers.
Awareness of danger and death can bias even peaceful people toward war or aggression. Iranian students in a control condition preferred the statement of a person preaching understanding and the value of human life over a jihadist call to suicide bombing. But primed to think about death, they grew more positive toward the bomber. Some even said that they might consider becoming a martyr.

As time goes by and the memory of danger and death grows fainter, however, “morality salience” tends to polarize people politically, leading them to cling to their own beliefs and demonize others who hold opposing beliefs—seeing in them the cause of their own endangerment.

Isn’t that interesting! If thinking about mortality and death can induce salience, that would seem to be generalizable to suicidality outside of martyrdom.

In Joiner’s Interpersonal Theory of Suicide, he speaks to the idea that people get acclimated to the idea of suicide.  Frequent assessments of suicidality delve into all of the mechanics of committing suicide:  does the person have a plan, if so, describe it in detail, how will they access the supplies and resources necessary to carry out the plan, where will they do it, will they leave a note, do they have reasons for not doing it, etc.  Even when people deny any and all of these aspects, bringing them up over and over again (let’s call it externally applied rumination) promotes acclimation to the idea of suicide behavior, if not also reinforcing the suicidality (perceived burdensomness and thwarted belongingness). In other words, the assessments serve as mental rehearsing or practice without any treatment whatsoever outside of direct observation (not a treatment), incarceration/involuntary hospitalization (doesn’t treat anything, and increases distress), and removal of the stated intended means (TSA and box cutters, leading to shoe bombers, then underwear, then turban bombs – a moving target, NOT a treatment for suicidality).

Poor Put Upon Psychiatrists

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MovieDoc is perturbed that patients who are contemplating suicide telephone.  Instead, he avers that they should be telephonally instructed to hang up and call another number.

Despite the ubiquitous “If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911” message I wonder how many patients who are sufficiently ambivalent about ending their lives to call their psychiatrist would call 911 instead. There seems to be an expectation (standard of care?) that psychiatrists can somehow talk them out of it over the phone, or attempt to stop the patient by involving 911 or other resources. I find it ironic that many argue that video conference (eg, Skype) is inadequate for even routine psychiatric encounters and yet expect psychiatrists to, on the spur of the moment, handle a life or death situation over the phone. Why not send these calls to the people who handle them all the time, crisis lines, and stop trying to be the hero like one of those movie psychiatrists?

In Sybil Dr. Wilbur goes to her patient’s apartment to rescue her. How far should one go to stop the patient from killing herself? Why stop with a telephone call?

Should we pretend to do something we cannot do? Does providing access outside of an appointment encourage or reward dysfunctional and potentially dangerous behavior?

“If you’re suicidal, leave a message and you’ll get a free telephone session with your physician who wants to be your hero and rescue you and provide you with attention and make you cared for, warm and fuzzy.”

I don’t disagree that patients shouldn’t try to contact their psychiatrist, when they have one, but my disagreement is for different reasons. MovieDoc buys into many myths which have been exposed as such by Thomas Joiner. For example, the myth of impulsivity, selfishness and suicide notes are addressed:

To my knowledge, no study has reported a rate of note leaving among suicide decedents to exceed 50%. Moreover, most studies find rates between 0% and 40%4; a reasonable average rate would be approximately 25%.


Why are suicide notes so rare? Some have reasoned that because impulsivity is involved in suicidal behavior, suicidal persons often kill themselves before they have a chance to write a note. There are problems with this viewpoint, however. A major problem is that it draws on the distinct myth that dying on a whim is common. Another problem is the lack of empirical support that compares those who leave notes with those who do not. If it were true that note leavers are much less impulsive than those who do not leave notes, then this distinction should be easy to demonstrate in forensic studies that examine the lives, characteristics, and personalities of decedents. This difference has not been clearly demonstrated.


The relative rarity of suicide notes reveals the state of mind of those about to die by suicide. To say that persons who die by suicide are lonely at the time of their deaths is a massive understatement. Loneliness, combined with alienation, isolation, rejection, and ostracism, is a better approximation. Still, it does not fully capture the suicidal person’s state of mind. In fact, I believe it is impossible to articulate the phenomenon, because it is so beyond ordinary experience. Notes are rare because most decedents feel alienated to the point that communication through a note seems pointless or does not occur to them at all.

Suicide hotlines are staffed by people with all sorts of education, backgrounds and skill sets. There are no therapeutic standards of practice.  There is no accreditation, licensure or certification requirement for crisis hotlines or the people who staff them.  Caller beware.

As a caller, I’ve been treated to someone chewing his food and multiple hang ups (“I’m sorry I can’t help you. I have to go now.” Click. That was verbatim, and so must be in the script for getting rid of undesirable calls)

I refuse to ever have contact with any aspect of hospital based psychiatric services, as do I suspect a majority of people with past suicide attempts. The trauma and harm that caused is something I won’t expose myself to again.

But I would not contact a psychiatrist either since the power to force treatment is an ongoing threat. Suicidality is obviously not safe for me to discuss with anyone, and until euthanasia is “on the table” I can’t foresee trusting any provider enough to discuss core concerns. Moreover, I have no desire to distress someone else, provider or otherwise, with my concerns.

All this to get to the point that I hypothesize that there really isn’t a big patient population that would be likely to call their psychiatrist with lethal suicide intent.

Just as most people who commit suicide don’t leave notes, I doubt that they make impulsive “save me and be all warm and fuzzy about it” phone calls, either. I certainly learned that no one is interested, nor can help, via that route.

Indeed, I learned that there is no useful therapeutic treatment for suicidality. The current standard of incarceration (they call it containment), assaults and batteries (forced medication, restraints, isolation, refusal to allow patient chosen visitors to be present) and intrusive observation sans human interaction (unskilled people who do not speak to, touch or care for patients, but who literally remain in views at all times) is dehumanizing, demoralizing and confirms the extant hopelessness. It doesn’t ever address suicidality and its attendant concerns of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness.  It does nothing whatsoever to relieve the unbearable distress that predicates suicidality. It’s all about restraints, control and power.

Discontinuing mental health services and contacts was necessary to halt distressing assessments that were conflated with care and continuing trauma from a lack of effective care.  At least the iatrogenic harm stopped.

Like many others, I came out worse than before I received “treatment”.

So I find it ironic that the psychiatrist feels undue burdens in the theoretical situation of a patient contacting him or her with a perceived degree of unbearable distress.  Is it any wonder that the suicide rate is highest for psychiatrists?

When they remove the double speak and have that oh-so-critical insight into what will be done to them if they seek treatment for suicidality, psychiatrists, like most physicians, do not seek treatment and avoid seeking peer support or disclosing their “illness”.

The biggest walking, talking, suiciding ads for anti-psychiatry are distressed psychiatrists.

Won’t You Come In and Set A Spell?

I’d like to invite one and all who think about dying, wanting to die, plan your own death, attempt(ed) to die, study these thoughts, beliefs and behaviors or care for or about those who do, to help me in my exploration of alleviating distressors “upstream” from suicidality.

It occurred to me that survivors of suicide are usually described as family and friends of those who died by self inflicted death.  But what about those of us who remained alive after our attempts?  I haven’t found a term for that. Isn’t that interesting?

And what about those of us who find no relief in having remained alive after suicidality?  Or who don’t find relief from suicidality?

Perhaps there is belongingness and worthiness to be found in helping those who are navigating – mostly alone – these very rocky shoals.  Maybe bringing your wisdom, experience and perceptions in how to regain thwarted belongingness and regaining a real and abiding sense of purpose and meaning to someone who is suffering will help you to acquire the same attributes.

I was thinking about the study out today that demonstrates a deep and broad lack of trust by people with depression of their physicians. Then I thought about the known problem of medical students’ reluctance to seek help for mental illness.  I think there may be a lot of overlap in these two studies in the following areas:

There is fear of the negative consequences of reporting symptoms of mental illness – stigma, loss of career, loss of income, loss of health insurance, loss of healthcare (after a psych diagnosis, the quality of healthcare goes down significantly and dramatically as symptoms are chalked up to psychosomaticism and preventive healthcare doesn’t include aggressive care for psychotropic medication adverse effects),loss of personal relationships, loss of home, loss of social standing, loss of social roles, loss of self worth.  There is also the fear of coercion in accepting treatment.  And there is fear of undesirable effects of treatment.

But in admitting suicidality, there is a real danger of losing one’s civil rights, of being detained, incarcerated and treated against one’s will, of being publicly humiliated and shamed, and worst, of being intrusively assessed and evaluated with no care which alleviates intolerable distress.  Every single time I tried to bring up suicidality and how to deal with it, the treater instantly launched into the “dangerousness” assessment.  I eventually learned to clam up immediately and not to bring up suicidality again.

Is it any wonder that we scratch our heads and can’t figure out why people attempt suicide then?  It’s really because no one wants to know the lived experience – the phenomena – of suicidality.

The psychological autopsies are largely stupid, in my view.  There are living, breathing, distressed people who are more than willing to explain if only someone was there to be open enough (and not terrified) to listen and to help work through the distress.

I think that “someone” is those of us who experience suicidality. We may be our own best resource.

So if this speaks to you, consider yourself welcome.  Bring your best – critical thought, analysis, resources, references, support – and help to build ways to lower distress, prevent it in the first place, and find some relief for yourself.


When People Aren’t De-Stressed

There was an extraordinary commenting discussion about suicide as reader responses to a NYTimes column by the physician and writer, Danielle Ofri. In her essay, she laments the death by suicide of a patient and expresses frustration about the seeming non-suicidality of him making the death an unexpected shock.

Two weeks ago, I called one of my patients to reschedule an appointment. A family member answered and told me that my patient had been found dead in his apartment, most likely a suicide. This robust and healthy 54-year-old had screened “negative” for depression at every visit, despite having risk factors: being unemployed, living alone, caring for an ill relative.

Here she makes a clinical error: screening for depression and suicidality are two distinct entities.  Once does not necessarily presage the other. In terms of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, isolation, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, this gentleman was existing in a stew of toxic risk factors.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is old, but useful, in my view.  This person exhibited unmet basic needs – financial burdens, caregiver burdens, physical burdens, social isolation burdens.  The question becomes, where art thy neighbor?  Who is thy neighbor?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Resized, renamed,...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the risk factors for suicidality is that physicians increasingly treat rather than care for patients.  Because the care is missing, patients aren’t supported around anything other than medications, surgery and medical procedures.  One thing Dr. Ofri could have addressed is linking the patient to a home health nursing agency or to a social worker who could help him access caregiver support, perhaps home delivered meals and financial and job search supports.

The bottom line is that it appears that no one was this man’s neighbor, or brother, or fellow citizen.

Now to the commentary:

Readers addressed a wide variety of insightful and thoughtful aspects around suicide and suicidality.  The right to end terminal suffering – psych ache – is addressed quite compellingly.