Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Newsworthy Deaths

So for the second time in as many days we have another story about a wealthy, high-flying businessman who commits suicide. Yesterday it was a German industrialist, today it was a Chicago real estate auctioneer.

I'm not sure what makes these suicides more newsworthy than the death of one of my neighbors a couple years ago that didn't make the newspaper, or the hundreds of other suicide deaths that happen every month in this country, but there it is on CNN. Maybe it's a media comment on the state of the economy. Maybe it's the shock value of a successful or wealthy person just throwing it all away and giving up. Maybe it's a morality tale that materialism doesn't lead to happiness. Regardless, the stories draw eyeballs just for the schadenfreude of watching someone fall from a high place.

In our local newspaper there were stories about other recent suicides: a Pennsylvania politician who was also an accused serial rapist and a school teacher who was accused of assaulting a student. The New York Times recently had an in-depth story about the Fort Meade scientist who committed suicide under the stress of the FBI anthrax investigation. These are deaths at the other end of the social spectrum, involving people who might generate a lot less sympathy than the businessmen. In other situations like this I've heard people suggest that the accused 'had it coming' or even express relief that money wouldn't be wasted on a trial.

Does it really matter? The impact of suicide on the spouses, family, co-workers, friends and neighbors doesn't depend on the deceased's social status. And I cringe at the implication that perhaps suicide prevention may not be quite as crucial for people who are less deserving than others.

A pedophile patient of mine thought it was important that I believe he was innocent, as if I'd give him worse care because of his offense. I finally shocked him by telling him, "It doesn't matter if you did it or didn't do it, you still deserve to be healthy."

I really hope that someday society will believe that.


Anonymous said...

It's the same sentiment behind the vigilante killings of sex offenders on parole. Since the victim "had it coming", the killing is believed to have been justified. No matter how horrific the circumstances.

Anonymous said...

On the suicide story - I don't remember where I read this - but someone studied the actual suicides in the great depression (USA) and found only one recorded. The Wall St imagery of bankers throwing themselves from balconies like lemmings was pure sensationalism - but one that stuck and is mimicked still now in media. I suspect the recent newspaper article is leading down that same path.

On social morality - and that which applies to those 'offenders' who find themselves indefinitely incarcerated for offences that originate in behaviour that arises from circumstances beyond their control - I've worked with my fair share of people who've committed sex offences. The most of them are also survivors of abuse so I often don't have a great difficulty in treating them as a victim before culprit. (I don't rate their risk any less for it).

It may be grandiose or elitist of me - but in this line of work I often regard those who look after societies 'misfits' in a similar way to how Colonel Jessop (Jack Nicholson - A Few Good Men) portrays his perception of his role in providing a different sort of security to the people -

"You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has sick people who've done some nasty things. And those sick people have to be looked after by health care workers. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Jo Public? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for victims of abuse and you curse the abusers. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that most abusers are survivors of abuse and, while tragic, we still protect you from them. And my existence, as someone who cares for a pedophile, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves souls... You don't want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me in that job. You need me in that job.
We use words like caring, compassion, understanding...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent repairing something. You use 'em as an excuse. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of ignorance of treating the real causes of pedophilia, then questions the morality of the manner in which we provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up the cause and start helping treat these survivors of abuse. Either way, I don't give a damn what you're opinion is!"

Too much? :-)

ClinkShrink said...

RVitelli: Inside the walls prisoners think sex offenders 'have it coming' too. It's so weird to see how offenders weigh the morality of crimes.

Ian: Now I'm going to have to see that movie.

Anonymous said...

Another point of view:

Monday morning. I come to work. I identify my patients, cataloge their injuries and propose the manner and mode of death. Be it GSW to the head or impact with a train, the injuries are horrendous.

What I can never know is, what was this person was thinking at that critical moment? I can understand some of the circumstances from the police files and medical charts.

Herein, lies the very fine, but definitive line between psychopathology and pathology. The former is at a point where intervention can make all the difference.

I am moved by what I see.

ClinkShrink said...

Anon: Wow. Yeah, that's what kept me out of becoming a pathologist.