Talking About Suicide

Because it's not a taboo

More on veterans, and a diagnosis

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof this week turned his attention to suicide among veterans, and he began bluntly: “Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.”

When a prominent piece on suicide is published, it’s always useful to read the comments, many of them anonymous as usual. Here is a detail that struck me among the many angry responses about war and about the Department of Veterans Affairs: “When my husband tried to hang himself the Army hospital put the diagnosis as ‘cervical contusion secondary to falling on edge of table.'”

The woman adds that her husband walked away from their home in August, and hikers found his body four months later.

What’s wrong with putting “attempted suicide” or “tried to hang himself” on the record? How can we really know how many suicide attempts are made?

A separate comment on the Kristof column offers an answer: “The medical community is too scared to even say the word ‘suicide’ for threat or lawsuits.” The post by Douglas Ljungkvist goes on: “I hate to say it, but in our fame and celebrity obsessed society the only way suicide will get the attention that it needs is if more celebrities die by or attempt suicide and some of those attempt survivors with clout speak out and become advocates.”

It turns out that Ljungkvist is a photographer who has made a series of portraits titled “Attempted Suicide.” The six photos come with no stories, only first names.

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