suicide

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As Aging White Man, Robin Williams Was Particularly at Risk for Suicide

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

An Instagram photo that comedian and actor Robin Williams posted on his last birthday, July 21. The caption: ‘Happy Birthday to me! A visit from one of my favorite leading ladies, Crystal.’

You don’t really expect a professional baseball player to be the one person to articulate the effect Robin Williams had on much of the general public, but that was my feeling when I read this quote in today’s San Francisco Chronicle from Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, who had once been thrilled to receive a congatulatory handshake from Williams. Said Lincecum:

He made things feel like they weren’t so bad.”

Remembering some of Williams’ early manic groundbreaking appearances on television and movies, the statement rang true, as did the chilling irony in its description of a man who seemingly had everything but clearly thought that things were that bad, after all.

The suicide rate for white men increased almost 40 percent between 1999 and 2011.

Considering his suicide, it’s not surprising that Williams’ publicist said Monday that the comedian suffered from severe depression. Williams also struggled with substance abuse issues for decades. Since his death, a national conversation has ensued on the insidious effects of depression, and how it can prove fatal even in those who, to the outside world, seemingly have everything to live for.

Around the country, media organizations have been interviewing mental health experts on the subject. The Chronicle talked to some who worried about the impact of Williams’ suicide on those struggling with depression. “I get concerned about people wondering if people as promising as him with all these resources available can’t make it, what are the chances for them?” Patricia Arean, a UCSF clinical psychologist and psychiatry professor, told the paper.

She said many people who are depressed often can’t find their way to the appropriate treatment if what they’re currently doing to address their condition isn’t working. Continue reading

State Seeks Return to Full Control over Prison System Mental Health Care

By Julie Small, KPCC

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, CA. (Michael Montgomery/KQED)

More than a decade ago, a federal judge appointed a special master to oversee mental health care in the California state prison system. Since then, California has spent billions of dollars to improve psychiatric care for inmates. On Wednesday, the state will formally ask to have that oversight ended. But a high suicide rate among inmates is complicating the state’s petition.

Experts hired by the state and by the court say there are  fundamental problems with how the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation handles suicidal prisoners.

The experts say things go wrong as soon as an inmate is labeled suicidal. While waiting for a psychiatric assessment, the prisoner is placed in a holding cell the size of a telephone booth.

Despite the billions spent overall on mental health care, the suicide rate in California’s prisons has been going up.
Jane Kahn, a lawyer who represent inmates in lawsuits against the prison system, says male prisoners are often stripped “and left just in their boxers.”

“The biggest concern is that prisoners will not report that they’re feeling suicidal if they’re held in these kind of settings,” Kahn adds. “We think it’s one of the many factors that explains this high rate of suicide within our system.”

And despite the billions spent overall on mental health care, the suicide rate in California’s prisons has been going up. Over the past 14 years an average of 31 prisoners a year have killed themselves -– a rate higher than the national averages for federal and state prisons as a whole. Continue reading

ouRXperience: College and Suicide; Hmong New Year; Norovirus in Butte County

Merced's Hmong celebrate the New Year. (Photo: Changvang Her)

Merced's Hmong celebrate their New Year. (Photo: Changvang Her)

Editor’s Note: KQED produces ouRXperience, a blog from community correspondents, to enrich coverage of health issues across California.

This week ouRXperience featured posts from three California communities: