Tuesday Reads: Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide Should Be Discussed Openly

Despair, Edvard Munch

Despair, Edvard Munch

Good Afternoon!!

Sorry to be so late again. But I think I have some interesting reads for you today, so I hope some of you will be able to check them out afternoon and evening.

I’m going to begin with a sad story that happened in the Greater Boston town where I live.

On Friday, August 31, a 15-year-old high school sophomore named Jeremy Kremer-McNeil committed suicide in the basement of his home using cyanide. So far there’s been no explanation of how he obtained the chemical, but according to The Boston Globe, police suspect he may have gotten it on the internet.

A hazmat crew had to be called in to decontaminate the house before the scene could be processed by police. At first the boy’s name was not released, but his family asked that it be made public. Here is the obituary Jeremy’s family submitted to the Arlington Patch:

Jeremy A. Kremer-McNeil, 15, Had a Strong Wish to Put an End to Human Trafficking.

Kremer-McNeil, Jeremy Alexander, 15, of Arlington, died on September 4, 2015.

Jeremy is the beloved son of Amy Kremer and Taylor McNeil, and brother of Emily. He is also survived by his grandmother, Esther Kremer; aunts Betsy (Kremer) Lane and Jenny (McNeil) Foerster; uncle Randall Kremer; and many cousins.

He was and is loved deeply by all his family and so very many friends.

Jeremy had a strong wish to put an end to human trafficking. To honor his passion, and to provide lasting comfort not only to his family and friends but to others in distress, we ask that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in his honor to The Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org). In this way, he will live on in the good that is done in the world.

Ashes, Edvard Munch

Ashes, Edvard Munch

From The Boston Globe: Arlington teen apparently consumes cyanide, spurs hazmat response.

ARLINGTON — Hazmat crews rushed to a quiet street on Friday afternoon after a 15-year-old died by apparently consuming cyanide, officials said.

Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan said near the scene on Rockmont Road that police were called to the home at about 4 p.m., after a relative voiced “concerns” about the male victim, who lived in the home.

Ryan did not elaborate on the concerns but said that officers found the victim’s body in the basement of the home, and that observations led them “to believe that the deceased may have consumed cyanide.”

As a result, Ryan said, neighbors were evacuated from their homes and a hazardous-materials crew descended on the residence to begin decontaminating the area, as well as the victim’s body. Work injury lawyers in phoenix AZ were immediately consulted and hired for their cause.

The office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said in a statement that because that because the victim’s death does not appear to be suspicious, authorities will not release his name.

I was stunned to learn that there is such a policy in place. So many young people struggle with depression and anxiety; and suicide by teenagers and even younger children is not uncommon. So why the secrecy? People who are depressed and despairing need to know they are not alone.

The Scream, Edvard Munch

The Scream, Edvard Munch

The Boston Herald reports:

The apparent suicide of an Arlington teenager who school officials identified yesterday left the town shaken as the odd way he died drew attention to a death that police said would otherwise have passed by unnoticed.

“The manner in which this young man took his life was out of the ordinary — suicide itself is a quite common occurrence for us — and typically suicide incidents or suicide are not publicized,” Arlington police Chief Frederick Ryan told the Herald. “So the general public does not realize how frequent it does occur.”

How awful. No death by suicide should “pass by unnoticed.” This is a public health problem and the public needs to be aware of how many young people commit suicide. The family did the right thing by asking that his name be released.

More from Wicked Local Arlington: Editorial: Why we haven’t eulogized AHS teen.

In a little over one month, the town of Arlington has lost three young people to untimely deaths, tearing three holes in the fabric of three families and of this community. Two, Catherine Malatesta and Katherine Wall, were felled by aggressive cancers. The third, Jeremy Kremer-McNeil, killed himself in his parent’s basement using cyanide.

The deaths of Malatesta and Wall received significant coverage in these pages, yet the passing of Kremer-McNeil is only lightly covered. Does the manner of his death cheapen the life of a 15-year old cruelly taken from us? Is he suddenly undeserving of the same public mourning this paper has afforded his peers?

Suicide is undeniably a public health issue in the Commonwealth.

In MA, suicide was listed as the cause of death in 624 cases in 2012, the most recent year for which data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is available. On top of those 624 suicides, 4,258 people were hospitalized with self-inflicted injuries in Massachusetts in 2012, and the counseling hotline Samarateens responded to 187,849 crisis calls in that same year. As shocking as those numbers may seem, our overriding responsibility as a media outlet is to cover the broader issue of suicide, and not its individual instances.

Weeping Nude, Edvard Munch

Weeping Nude, Edvard Munch

By the way, there was a time when cancer deaths were hushed up as if somehow shameful or distasteful. I clearly recall when the mother of one of my high school classmates died very young of cancer. Her cause of death was whispered among the other students, but didn’t appear in her obituary.

Wicked Local’s explanation for the lack of press coverage:

Most responsible media outlets are mindful of the possibility that the greater the coverage and the more explicit the information published about a suicide attempt, the greater the risk is that the a suicide will be imitated. Research by psychiatric epidemiologist Madelyn Gould at New York City’s Columbia University shows that media attention around a peer’s suicide can make teens more vulnerable to killing themselves. Her research, as reported by NPR in 2009, showed that the increase in suicides following a suicide story is proportional to the amount, and the duration, and the prominence of the coverage of the initial event….

Despite the very public nature of Friday’s suicide, many aspects of this case are acutely private. In covering all tragedy, journalists must balance a family’s need for respect and privacy with the importance of the event. Those are pressures we feel even more acutely at The Advocate. The people we cover are not anonymous. They are our neighbors. In this case, we believed and continue to believe that the former definitively outweighs the latter.

Is this really a good policy? Are these media and law enforcement policies common around the country? Wouldn’t the suicide of a young person in a community be an appropriate time to educate residents, reach out to other local depressed young people, find ways to help them, rather than hush the suicide up and let depressed youngsters think they are alone in their struggles?

dayAfter_munch

I only wish someone had been able to reach out to Jeremy and help him get past whatever he was going through. Sometimes just a hug or an empathetic listener can be a step toward deciding to stay alive.

I know something about this, because I was very depressed when I was Jeremy’s age, and I frequently considered suicide. Somehow, I always talked myself out of it and was able to go onward. I have struggled with depression for most of my adulthood also. I became an alcoholic through my attempts at self-medication. Now as a senior with more than 30 years of sobriety, I expect to take an antidepressants for the rest of my life. Over the years, I have learned may tools for dealing with my depression, but I know that I must be “ever vigilant”–as they say in A.A.–because I have a chronic illness that is both physical (highly genetic) and emotional.

I’d be very interested in learning what our readers think about the issue of media and law enforcement silence when people kill themselves.

Of course it isn’t just high school students who suffer from depression and anxiety. For most of each year, the Boston area has a massive population of college students, and the local papers usually run lots of back-to-school stories in September. This year the Globe is focusing on mental health issues among college students.

From yesterday’s Globe: College kids are sad, stressed, and scared. Can their counseling centers help them?

When Ramya Babu thinks about her freshman year at Boston University, she remembers the day she stood alone in her dorm room and screamed in anguish.

Babu had been thrilled to start college. But just a few weeks into the school year, she began to feel like the world around her was simultaneously spinning too fast and leaving her dizzy, but also moving too slow in a way that made her feel like her loneliness and anxiety would never end. All of the overwhelmed emotions she had tried to suppress caught up to her, making her cry out in pain.

Frantic, Babu called a friend from home, who suggested she see someone at BU’s counseling center.

A counselor at BU’s behavioral medicine center diagnosed her with both depression and an anxiety disorder. Each week, at her appointments, Babu would talk through her feelings and concerns with her counselor and leave feeling like she had strategies that would help her survive.

But at the end of the semester, after only eight sessions, her counselor handed her a referral sheet and told her this would be their final meeting. She would have to find a new therapist.

“I had no idea what to do,” she said. “I felt like the support in the referral process was next to non-existent. I know they have a limited number of therapists, but this is a college campus with a mental health center and there I was trying to negotiate with outside practitioners I knew nothing about.”

Melancholy, Edvard Munch

Melancholy, Edvard Munch

When I was teaching at Boston University, I often talked to students who had terrible problems; many were obviously depressed and anxious. I always tried to listen to and empathize with the problems they shared, but there was little more I could do. I knew about the short-term counseling available at BU and most other universities, and always thought it was terribly inadequate. More from the Globe article:

From today’s Globe: ‘I didn’t need to pretend anymore:’ the fading stigma of mental illness at college.

Wendy Chang’s friends could recognize her laugh from a distance. Even if they didn’t see her right away, they knew from the boisterous sound that echoed down Harvard’s hallways that Chang would soon appear, her head thrown back and nose scrunched up with mirth.

Lanier Walker thought Chang’s constant laughter was a sign that she was happy. But Walker later learned that Chang hid what pained her most. The 22-year-old Harvard senior hung herself in her dorm room in 2012.

Walker was shocked and horrified that the life her friend lived didn’t match the image that she portrayed. Then she realized that her friends and peers didn’t know much about her own personal struggles, either.

Walker decided to take action.

After another Harvard student died by suicide in the spring of 2014, Walker felt overwhelmed by the need to do something. She wrote an op-ed for The Harvard Crimsoncalled “We Need to Talk” about her own struggles with depression and anxiety. By her sophomore year, Walker was having four to five anxiety attacks a week.

“Harvard doesn’t always make it easy to talk about ourselves,” she wrote. “It’s a place that demands perfection, and as a result, we feel compelled to present perfect versions of ourselves. We don’t talk about what’s really going on.”

Walker’s letter ended with a call to her peers to start talking, and to let others know they were around to listen. After the letter was published, she needed to take her own advice.

Read the rest at the Globe link.

Self Portrait in Bergen, Edvard Munch

Self Portrait in Bergen, Edvard Munch

I’ll end with this Globe article from May of this year: Parents of teen track star who took her own life: ‘It’s okay not to be okay.’

Madison Holleran was a track star at the University of Pennsylvania. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was loved. Her posts on Instagram depicted the kind of life that you looked at and wondered why yours wasn’t nearly as perfect.

But it wasn’t perfect. On January 17, 2014, Madison Holleran lept off the ninth floor of a parking garage and died. She was 19 years old.

“There are moments when the Hollerans are chasing the ‘why,’ still,” said Kate Fagan, who wrotethe in-depth article about Holleran’s life and death forESPN magazine’s May issue.

“Every time I talked to them, it came back to, ‘The reason we’re talking about it is because we wanted to let people know it’s okay to not be okay.’”

Those are such wise words! Yes, it is “okay to not be okay.” We need much more public discussion of depression and anxiety in this country. These illnesses–and they are illnesses–should be discussed openly. Of course the U.S. doesn’t have anything approaching a good system to address mental health problems either, and that has to change. If suicides are hushed up, that is not going to happen. The public needs to know the extent of the problem and the public needs to be the catalyst to bring out change.

The Wave, Edvard Munch

The Wave, Edvard Munch

I have a few more interesting stories to share–I’ll just give you the headlines and links and I hope you’ll check them out.

First, here’s an important story from the Winnipeg Free Press that Dakinikat linked to in a comment yesterday. I thought it deserved more prominent placement. It’s an edited interview with Jane Goodall in which she discusses climate change denial, research myths, and animal rights: Jane Goodall remains a road warrior for the planet.

A long article at The Atlantic that I haven’t read yet: The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

From The National Memo: Endorse This: Look, It’s Super-Jeb! by Eric Kleefeld.

Vanity Fair: NetJets Pilots Ask for Better Pay for Flying Millionaires.

Mitch Albom at The National Memo: Tape Tells Story In James Blake Arrest Case.

A terrifying case of race profiling that hasn’t gotten much attention: Kamilah Brock: Woman held in mental health facility because police didn’t believe BMW was hers.

What stories are you following today?

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31 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Depression, Anxiety, and Suicide Should Be Discussed Openly”

  1. Fannie says:

    I think it’s time to have this discussion, here and all over the world. We need to look around, and see who and why we have a high rate of suicide, we need to be more supportive, and understanding. We really have a poor mark when it comes to these innocent young people, and their stories should be told, again and again. Sometimes it is hard not to cry, but my grand niece did this video for her senior project. It’s worth sharing again:

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Fannie. I remember when you posted that video awhile ago. I was very impressed. You must be so proud of your grand niece!

      • Fannie says:

        Everybody deserves to have their story told. And it is so wrong for the church (catholic) to say those who die by suicide cannot be buried in their cemeteries. Last year parents of gay teens went to Idaho legislature to tell about their children who had been bullied and shame, and needed support from our communities. The Mormon churches said no they didn’t need to support these children. But hey, when the Followers of Jesus Church want to refuse their children treatment at doctors, they get a special license to just let them die from Idaho, because they are concerned about the after life. It doesn’t make sense.

  2. Patricia says:

    A very sad subject, indeed. I am glad I have read your post today. I believe these facts have brought the subject into a new light for myself.

  3. roofingbird says:

    I was thinking about the time I was younger, happy and was having a couple of drinks at a new place with friends and hubby. It was a nice waterfront restaurant in Sausalito. I got up to go to the powder room and in the dim light I walked my way into a corner where I promptly got groped by several guys. I found my way back and as I was heading the right direction the bouncer came over and threatened me. My friends were watching horrified. Hubby wanted to do something about it. It stunned me that the gropers weren’t addressed and hurt my feelings because I hadn’t done anything wrong. We finished our drinks, left and never went back.

    There are some people that want to damage happiness in women. Kamilah Brock had the misfortune to be a young, pretty, middle class, and black, woman. Dancing at the stop light in her car inspired that double whammy of misogyny and racism. Black women just have it harder and we need to acknowledge both bruises if we are ever to get rid of either truncheon.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Absolutely. And what happened to you was dreadful. Most women have probably been through similar humiliating experiences. I know I have. Kamilah’s “crime” was being a black woman driving a car and telling the cop and mental health workers the truth–that she was a banker. Shades of the gulag.

      James Blake’s story is not much less frightening, even though he was quickly released.

  4. roofingbird says:

    BB, yes to all that:

    [Somehow, I always talked myself out of it and was able to go onward. I have struggled with depression for most of my adulthood also. I became an alcoholic through my attempts at self-medication. Now as a senior with more than 30 years of sobriety, I expect to take an antidepressants for the rest of my life. Over the years, I have learned may tools for dealing with my depression, but I know that I must be “ever vigilant”–as they say in A.A.–because I have a chronic illness that is both physical (highly genetic) and emotional.]

    I don’t think that the interwoven nature of depression and self medication are adequately understood by those must watch those illnesses unfold. I know I didn’t, not until I understood 30 years later, that alcoholism had arrived. There are so many other points of anger along the way that disguise the root cause.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes. Alcoholism is classified as a “psychiatric disorder,” and so is depression. Both are clearly physical illnesses as well and both are highly genetic. Both illnesses can be managed successfully given the knowledge needed to deal with them. Frankly, there really is no distinction between mind and body. There are mental and emotional issues that go along with every chronic disease–cancer and heart disease, for example.

      It’s fashionable right now to denigrate Alcoholics Anonymous, but the program does an effective job of educating people who are willing to learn the tools to handle the disease. The same tools are effective self-care for depression and anxiety. I was never an A.A. fanatic, but I attended meetings for five years, and I still use the tools I learned through the program to help me deal with many life issues.

      • Beata says:

        I think A.A. is a wonderful program. It gave my dearest aunt her life back in her late middle age. She had been an alcoholic since her 20’s after losing a child to brain cancer. Grief caused her to start drinking. Sadly, a few years after my aunt got sober through A.A. and was finally enjoying some happiness, she was herself diagnosed with brain cancer. She only lived a few more months. She was a brilliant and witty woman. I loved her very much.

        • bostonboomer says:

          That’s so sad. I’m so sorry about what happened to your aunt and for your loss.

          A.A. is under fire right now because a woman was murdered by a man she met in the program. Never mind that one of the principles A.A. emphasizes again and again is that recovering people should not get into new relationships in their first year of sobriety at least.

          Of course the medical community has always fought against A.A., because if someone gets sober in a free program, they won’t have to pay again and again for doctor visits and rehab.

      • dakinikat says:

        As you know, depression and anxiety run in my family. My mother’s mother had shock treatment in the late 50s. I remember sitting in the car with my dad waiting for my mom to be with her outside the hospital. She basically wouldn’t live the house or the sofa. My mom was awful when she hit menopause until they finally started giving her antidepressants when she was getting really bad dementia in her 70s. She was so cheerier; unlike any time I’d ever known her. I’ve had two or three major episodes in my life. So far, my daughters seem to be fine but you just never know.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    This is excellent, from The National Memo:

    5 Reasons It’s So Easy For Trump To Make Republicans Look Like Fools

    So how did a guy who has never won one vote as a Republican stomp on the longest-serving governor of one of the most important states in the union?

    Easily. And he’s doing the same thing to Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, and Bobby Jindal. Why is Trump so successful in drawing his opponents into battles they can’t win? He riffs on a Republican Party that is ripe for contemptible comedy, ridiculous rhetoric, and daring demagoguery.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Finally, the truth dawns on Villager Chris Cillizza:

    The Republican establishment is in DEEP trouble

  7. Beata says:

    Very important post, BB. There is still a lot of shame associated with psychiatric disorders. A large percentage of people have anxiety or depression at some point in their lives or are very close to someone who does, yet it is like the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge or discuss. Suicide has an even worse stigma.

    I have struggled with anxiety and depression since middle school. I started having panic attacks when I was in 8th grade. My mother suffered from episodes of anxiety and depression all her adult life. My father was an alcoholic who probably also had depression. His father was an alcoholic, too. Neither my father nor his father ever sought treatment but my mother did for her depression. She was not a drinker.

    Something that is adding to my anxiety and depression these days is the latest word following my last MRI. The specialist says my brain tumor is still inoperable. No new progress or research has been done that might help me in the future. But he did say, “You look great!” I told him so what? I feel like shit and you tell me there is no hope for my condition but I look great? Then he said, “A lot of people look terrible. You’re a beautiful woman.”

    Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Beata. Anxiety, depression, and alcoholism all tend to run in families–the same families. I’m just grateful my family avoided the schizophrenia gene, although that diseased is often handled better today also.

      How insensitive doctors can be! Bedside manner has gone the way of the dodo. When my mom was in the emergency room after she broke her clavicle, a nurse told her that she probably had a collapsed lung and broken ribs. Why was that necessary? Why couldn’t that nurse wait for the doctor’s diagnosis instead of scaring my mom?

      I’m so sorry to learn that your tumor is still inoperable. I just hope future research will find the solution, and I hope it happens in time to help you. Where are the National Institutes of Health? Yeah, I know. They’ve probably had massive funding cutbacks, thanks to Congress.

    • roofingbird says:

      Geez Beata, do brain tumors run in your family? I had no idea they could be genetically based.

      http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2013/08/05/genes-that-drive-brain-cancer/

    • Fannie says:

      Going to the doctors does create anxiety for me too. You certainly have help me grow over the years, and I know we all deeply appreciate you. You are unique and cared for by other unique skydancers! Luv ya.

      About that MRI, I refuse too have the brain scan again. No more. I don’t want to hear about it.

      • Beata says:

        Thank you, Fannie. I had refused another MRI for a couple years while my mother was dying and for a time after that. I hate those damn scans and the aftermath. But my doctor kept pressuring me to have one and I finally said yes. I thought maybe something new would be available to help me but now I got the word once again that there is nothing to be done. It is devastating. Never again will I go through that. I have experienced it too many times. I am done. Now I’m going to try to enjoy my life as much as I can, for as long as I can.

  8. Beata says:

    I think reporting a death as a suicide in a news story or an obituary should be left up to the family of the person. If a death is not the result of foul play, my opinion is that the cause is a private matter unless the family chooses to give more information.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Yes, I agree. But families should not hesitate to release the information if they want to prevent further loss of young lives.

      Not too long ago, a family in Muncie submitted an obituary of their son who had overdosed on drugs. They described the young man’s problems as well as his many admirable characteristics. I thought that was wonderful. But of course the decision should be up to the family.

      I just thought it was striking that the police chief admitted that suicides are common here in this small town. That fact should be known, and there are ways for the media to address it without naming names. However, as you can see from my links, many families do want the media to notice the problem.

      How can we prevent these suicides if most people aren’t aware they are happening?

  9. bostonboomer says:

    This headline writer at USA Today couldn’t bring himself to write “menstrual” blood.

    Portland artist uses period blood for Trump portrait

    PORTLAND, Ore. – A Portland artist’s unusual painting is making national headlines.

    It’s not just because of who it portrays. It’s also because of the medium.

    The painting is a portrait of the current leader of the Republican presidential primary race, Donald Trump – painted with menstrual blood.

    Artist Sarah Levy titled the portrait “Whatever.” It depicts Trump mid-sentence with one eye completely blotted out by red and his infamous hair windswept with streaks of dark blood.

    “I heard the comments he made to Megyn Kelly and I was outraged that he was basically using women’s periods not just to avoid a political question but also to insult her and all women’s intelligence,” she said.

  10. Fannie says:

    Like many of you, I too suffer from family dysfunctioning, and mental depression. I have always been emotional. Finding my way out of one the worst ghetto’s in this country wasn’t easy. So many treatments have been failures, like the methadone program. I am so glad that Hillary Clinton wants to put 10 Billion into the drug addiction fight, allowing law enforcement to “lock em up and throw away the keys” has developed into the largest prison system in the world.

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/02/politics/hillary-clinton-10-billion-drug-addiction-fight/

    • Beata says:

      Thank you for that link, Fannie. Prison is not the answer for non-violent addicts, especially if they are suffering from underlying mental health problems. We definitely need to make more and better treatment available to them. I’m glad Hillary includes money for treating alcoholism in her plan.