After Harriet Deison's Death, Questions about Grief and Depression, Suicide and Privacy

Categories: Schutze

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We are old obit writers at our house who scour the obituary pages by habit every morning, and, yes, we did notice the long obituary in The Dallas Morning News last week for Harriet Schoelllkopf Deison, 65, wife of the pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church. I think we both snapped to it because her middle name is a very old one in Dallas.

We are also old police reporters at our house, so we do read those stories, too, and, yes, we both picked up on the small oddness of a piece in the News that ran at about the same time saying an unnamed 65-year-old woman bought a gun and then shot herself to death on the parking lot outside the gun shop.

The oddness, from the point of view of veteran reporters, was that the gun-shop story included a reference to an investigation the police were making of the gun shop to make sure the sale itself was legal and copacetic. So that puts a little shadow on the gun shop.

A lot of times an editor might tell the reporter, "If we are going to suggest any controversy of any kind, then we have to name everybody in the deal." Maybe. Maybe not. Most newspapers don't even report suicides, which are considered to be behind the privacy wall. You only report it if there is something about the suicide that makes it public. In that event, you treat all parties equally and name everybody.

Anyway, on Friday night we had people over for dinner who are familiar with the church. They were surprised we didn't know that the lady on the gun shop parking lot was the same lady in the obit. The next morning we awoke to a column in the paper by Steve Blow connecting all the dots.

Blow, who has written often and thoughtfully about suicide, said no one who spoke during her funeral used the word suicide, but that one speaker did allude to Deison's battle with "clinical depression." Blow wrote that "Deison ultimately succumbed to her illness."

The general theme in Blow's writing in the past about suicide has been that suicide is symptomatic of illness and that the illness is made worse and takes more lives because it is cloaked by social shame. If more people talked openly about it, he suggests, there would be more treatment and less suicide.

All of which comes to mind this morning because I just read a story in The New York Times citing a study that found most teenagers who kill themselves have received treatment at some point and it didn't do them any good.

I am also thinking about his: Everybody at Deison's funeral who felt saddened by her death can now be diagnosed as suffering from a mental disorder, thanks to a recent decision by the American Psychiatric Association to drop its longstanding "bereavement exclusion" in the diagnostic manual. Used to be that the manual told mental health professionals not to diagnose people as disordered if they're really just sad.
No more. Now sadness is a disorder, and the doctors can prescribe Welbutrin and other psycho-tropic drugs to make people not be sad.

A recent story in the Washington Post called the change a major boon to the pharmaceutical companies that produce those drugs. The story also reported this:

Eight of 11 members of the APA committee that spearheaded the change reported financial connections to pharmaceutical companies -- either receiving speaking fees, consultant pay, research grants or holding stock, according to the disclosures filed with the association. Six of the 11 panelists reported financial ties during the time that the committee met, and two more reported financial ties in the five years leading up to the committee assignment, according to APA records.

A key adviser to the committee -- he wrote the scientific justification for the change -- was the lead author of the 2001 study on Wellbutrin, sponsored by GlaxoWellcome, showing that its antidepressant Wellbutrin could be used to treat bereavement.

Now, wait a minute. I'm not off on a rant against Steve Blow here. Suicide is a tough one. I don't know that talking about it does any good for the suicidal person, but Blow is right about one thing: the wall of shame surrounding it is very tough on the survivors, who already have a terrible tendency to blame themselves.

People should talk to the survivors. One neighbor in the post office line who simply says "Sorry to hear about your son" can provide a welcome if momentary bath of sunlight and relief from the grinding pressure of grief and guilt. A simple expression of empathy says much more than the mere words: it says, "We don't blame you. You're O.K. people."

That's worth a lot.

But I do have a mini-rant to offer on the assumption that suicide is automatically and always a symptom of disease. What if people really do have overwhelming problems they can't overcome? And here is the really tough one: what if they just don't want to be alive anymore?

That's the one the rest of us refuse to accept, because it's too terrible. Disease and mental disorder serve as a kind of shroud to shield us from what we cannot stand to see in a deeply personal decision not to go on.

Calling it a disease, giving everybody Welbutrin, even the mourners: at what point do we have to worry about an even larger social disease in the form of a society and culture that can no longer handle grief? Isn't grief part of the deal? When did it go away? Did I miss that memo?

And, you know, what do I need to know about Harriet Deison's death? As long as it's not part of some police case against the gun shop, nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's behind the privacy wall for a reason. Let the people who knew her speak to her survivors. Let the rest of us butt out.


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30 comments
tenderunity
tenderunity

Jesus has nothing to do with some one taking their own life . I can tell you don't read but you do criticize others who do . As for what she should of did and didn't do is to late for that now. You can only pray that God have mercy on her because no one knows what she and others could have went through to make that decision. . 

CheapShit
CheapShit

What did Jesus Christ say about clinical depression?

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

In spite of the author's bad advice - if you have a depression that's affecting your life, you should seek mental health treatment.

Sure, there will be folks like Schutze here, eager to bash you for being to get better - but folks like that aren't about being good people.  They're about finding people who are down, so they can kick them.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Suicide is an option whether it is legal or not.  And assisted suicide happens thousands of times a day.  Doctors and nurses routinely administer fatal doses of morphine at the end of life when people are in agony.

Quality of life is the determiner.

leewilliams
leewilliams

Suicide is the worst decision a person can make on the worst day of their life.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Guns are a horrible scourge on America.  I hope President Obama uses his Executive Order privilege and bans the manufacture, sale, and import of ammunition except to law enforcement and the military; since the NRA has flooded the nation with hundreds of millions of killing machines, there is no other way to stop gun violence.

roo_ster
roo_ster

What JS wrote.

For my part, I have little regard for psychology and its practitioners when they overstep the bounds of what they really can prove empirically about the human psyche.  Sadly, this is entirely too often. 


So, now folks who mourn a loved one are not just mourning or sad, they are mentally ill?  IMNSHO, if you do not mourn the loss(1) of a loved one, that right there is a sign you are mentally broken.

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(1) For all values/sorts of "lost."

Daniel
Daniel

If you don't want to be alive anymore, you are most likely clinically depressed. People commit suicide because they're old and destitute, old and ill, or because they've been disgraced somehow and they're facing professional ruin/personal devastation/a lengthy prison sentence.  But the vast majority of suicides are depressed pretty much by definition. And FWIW, depression is an entirely different animal than mere sadness. 



mcdallas
mcdallas

Inconsiderate, smarmy remark about organized religion and it's lack of ability to help people with anything in 3...2...

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bvckvs

No, no, no, I am not saying that at all. If somebody is thinking about suicide and a mental health professional can help, that person definitely should get the help. I am not anti shrink. I'm really not anti anybody smart enough to get a medical license in America today. I am just saying that a reflexive definition of all sadness and grief as disease flies in the face of all that we know from millennia of culture and experience about the human condition.

kduble
kduble

Yet, in the case of a terminally ill patient, sometimes each day is worse than the day before.

clevertrousers
clevertrousers

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz simpleton ass shit ya got there.

Mervis
Mervis

My friend hung himself. Damn rope.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Autos are a horrible scourge on America. Razor blades are a horrible scourge on America. Ropes are a horrible scourge on America. Pills are a horrible scourge on America. Oh wait, that last sentence was actually relevant to the conversation about Mr. Schutze's article.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Daniel 

You have an entirely mistaken view of suicide. It's not a symptom of life failure or distress. Many suicides are just like this one -- sitting in the catbird seat.  Isn't there a lot more people can be sad about than money or illness? What do you mean, "depressed pretty much by definition?" How do you depress someone by definition? Who defined all sadness not caused by money, illness or a prison sentence as depression? Show me that definition.

You may be a follower of  the cult of life success. You believe people can be so successful, so good-looking, rich, happy and virtuous that they escape the human condition and dwell in an earthly paradise, sometimes called The Park Cities. But the human condition spares no one. It can kick anybody's ass, any time, any place, and that's not mental illness. It's life.

clevertrousers
clevertrousers

@JimSX welcome to the 21st century, how ya doing?

Daniel
Daniel

@JimSX @Daniel Jim, my point was that suicides owing to practical reasons ("life failure or distress") do happen (almost always among the most devoted "followers of the cult of life success"), but that they're rare compared to suicides owing to clinical depression. I don't believe I'm mistaken in that at all -- either you misread me or I expressed myself poorly.


Your view is that flat-out, implacable despair, minus external circumstances that would precipitate it, is not mental illness, but an inescapable facet of human experience. (Unless I misread it or you expressed yourself poorly.) That's not a mainstream view, but I happen to agree with it.


oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@JimSX @Daniel So maybe the question could be What changed that made life not worth living ?

clevertrousers
clevertrousers

@oakclifftownie @mcdallas you ain't got no game, brah.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Daniel @JimSX 

Got it. I agree with you. You expressed yourself well. I read poorly.

Daniel
Daniel

@JimSX @Daniel PS. Clinical depression is like alcoholism -- its classification as a "disease" is useful in reducing the attendant stigma, and therefore in helping more people recover rather than die. I think a lot of people grasp intuitively that these aren't really diseases in any conventional sense.

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