Why My Daughter Died and I Lived

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Despite our many similarities, my daughter and I have one major difference: she is dead and I’m not.

Aside from that, we were quite alike, as might be expected from people who shared fifty percent of their DNA. Our favorite movie was The Godfather, our favorite novel Heart of Darkness. We both grew up in the New York metro area. We were writers and social misfits who started feeling suicidal in our teens. We both got admitted to Columbia and arrived there for Orientation. There the resemblance ends. Martha Corey-Ochoa killed herself at age eighteen on her first night of Orientation, August 27, 2012, by jumping from her fourteenth-story dorm window, while her father is still here.

Suicidality is supposed to have a genetic component, so it’s no surprise we were both suicidal. What is more curious is why she went through with it and I didn’t. For me, suicide is a live issue every day, and not just because of my grief at losing Martha. Since holding a razor blade to my wrist at age fourteen to studying the lock on my skyscraper office window the other day, suicidality has been my steady companion. Yet I never made a suicide attempt. Martha made two: one that failed, one that worked.

Maybe someday someone will study Martha and me to identify the differentiating factors that led to her death but kept me alive. Maybe the results would help prevent more suicides. In the interests of such efforts, I will name one difference that seems to me pertinent.

Martha was on psychotropic drugs as a teenager and I wasn’t. This is in large part because American culture in the aughts, when Martha reached her teens, was more prone to medicalize strange ideas than in the 1970s, when I reached mine. I first admitted my suicidality in 1976 to a high school counselor, who didn’t refer me to a doctor, as counselors probably would now, but told me suicide was an “asshole move.” He talked to me for a couple of sessions, then, with my permission, talked to my parents. By then, I already had told them about my suicidality. The counselor and my parents were concerned, but it didn’t occur to any of them to get me a doctor who could put me on medication. When I told them I would rather not keep talking about it, they left me alone.

By contrast, in 2009, when Martha told me about her suicidality, medical care was my first stop. That was the culture at the time. The ideas that depression was treatable with SSRIs and that suicides could be prevented pharmacologically were widespread. I had bought into that way of thinking just a few years earlier, at the age of forty-three, by seeking psychiatric care, getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and being put on medication. I was primed to think that if that was good for me, it must be good for Martha.

Martha seemed, if anything, crazier than I. She told me that she had married a Russian prince, Aleksei, Tsar Peter the Great’s son, who had died three centuries earlier. (He really existed; you can look him up.) She was in love with Aleksei, and the turmoil of loving a dead man seemed to contribute to her low mood and thoughts of death. Since I had never had a comparable experience, I assumed this must be a delusion, and that she needed psychiatric care even more than I did.

So I insisted that Martha see a psychiatrist. My wife and I found her the best child and adolescent psychiatrist we could in our part of Westchester, and he diagnosed her with an unspecified mood disorder with psychotic features and put her on medication. For the next three years, Martha underwent a succession of changing drug regimens, received psychotherapy, and was hospitalized twice before she killed herself. Maybe I would have killed myself if I had gone through all that for three years. It didn’t save her; maybe it hastened her end. Nationwide, more psychiatric treatment has done nothing to curb suicide. Suicide rates in the United States rose from 1999 to 2016 even as use of antidepressants increased.

Possibly, one or more of Martha’s drugs stimulated her suicidality. For example, Martha was on the antidepressant Zoloft, which carries a black-box warning label for increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in pediatric and young adult patients. In addition to that increased risk of suicidality, the concept of mental illness is humiliating, and humiliation can make death look attractive. My daughter told me that the worst day of her life was the day I listened to her account of her love for Aleksei and told her that it sounded mentally ill and that she had to see a psychiatrist. She had trusted me with the thing that was most secret, high, and precious to her, and I had treated it as a symptom of disease. I inflicted that pain on her because I thought it would save her life. It did not save her life. In fact, it may have been a link in the chain of reasoning that persuaded her to end it.

The concept of mental illness is humiliating not because of some supposed “stigma” improperly attached to the concept that could be removed if we were more enlightened. The stigma is proper to the concept. The idea that I am diseased in the seat of what distinguishes me from other animals, my reason, means that I am less than human, and it is hard to know why I shouldn’t kill myself to remove a blight on my species.

At least when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I put myself in the company of famous artists and writers supposed to have been bipolar, such as van Gogh and Graham Greene. That gave me some consolation for the idea that the way I think and feel is fundamentally defective. I knew that if my diagnosis became generally known I might lose my job (as I later did, when it became generally known), but aside from that I was old enough to have a diminished level of concern about what people thought about me for being mentally ill. Similarly, although it was degrading to take drugs that made me gain weight (Zyprexa) and made my hands shake (lithium), I was middle-aged and had less concern about my body image than I did when I was younger.

Martha lacked these defenses. She wasn’t diagnosed bipolar, so she couldn’t fall back on the strange cachet that that diagnosis carries for artistic and literary people. She was deeply wounded by the idea of being personally defective. She wasn’t old enough to stop caring what other people think. I don’t think her drugs made her gain weight, but the possibility that they could probably haunted a teenage girl who, although of healthy weight, once told me she wished she would get an eating disorder. For all these reasons, I consider it possible that the categorization of Martha as mentally ill, in addition to the possible suicide-inducing effects of the medications she was taking, contributed to her suicide. In the 1970s, my suicidality was treated nonmedically and I lived. In the 2000s, Martha’s suicidality was treated medically and she died.

Since Martha’s death, I have had time to think about what I then called mental illness and now just call craziness or madness. I now think, following Thomas Szasz in The Myth of Mental Illness, that the concept of mental illness may be specious. The idea of mental illness arose by analogy to physical illness. A physical illness, or disease, is a bodily impairment, often diagnosed with the aid of biological tests such as throat cultures or X-rays. Mental “illnesses” by definition are not bodily (if one is shown to be bodily, it ceases to be classified as mental) and there are no biological tests for them. I suspect this is because they are not illnesses at all—just sets of thoughts and behaviors that violate social norms. I am willing to put this suspicion to the test, and have been doing so by slowly withdrawing myself from being a mental patient. With my psychiatrist’s help, I have been eliminating or reducing the dosage of the psychotropic drugs I take. Maybe someday I will be off all of them.

This is not to say I’m not crazy. I am, in the sense that I sometimes think or feel things that would get me called crazy if I expressed them. But I no longer think the best response to craziness is medical diagnosis and medication. The response I make to my own craziness is to listen respectfully to it and try to learn from it. I wish others would respond to it the same way. I wish I had acted that way when Martha told me of her dead Russian lover, instead of rushing her to a psychiatrist.

To be a parent of a suicidal child is to be in a terrible position, where you hold in your hands the life most valuable to you and know that any slip of your hands may end that life. So I am not trying to tell parents what they should do in that position, whether to seek or not seek medical care. But today, as when Martha was alive, suicide prevention is thoroughly medicalized, with suicidality taken as incontrovertible evidence of mental illness, which is treated primarily with drugs. Against that tendency I offer for consideration my hard-won experience as a suicidal father of a suicide. I tried to save Martha’s life with medical care. She died just the same. Maybe she would have died even if she hadn’t been diagnosed and treated as mentally ill. But I wish I could go back to the moment she first told me about her suicidality, and this time not assume it to be a medical issue but regard it as what Szasz called a problem in living, a human situation to be treated with humanity and respect. Even if she still died, at least she would have died with that much more experience of humanity and respect.

suicidality
Martha Corey-Ochoa, 1994-2012

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81 COMMENTS

  1. Rick Warren Leads Mental Health Effort After Son’s Suicide- Warren, founder of Saddleback Church and a best-selling author, will team with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and the National Alliance on Mental Illness…

    Glad your speaking out instead of like that POS Rick Warren “Psychiatry killed my kid, so use it on yours”

    Warren told CNN that “the pendulum has swung the other way to human rights so much that many parents and family members cannot get a conservatorship, cannot get a control over somebody.”

    Rick Warren is a phony.

    “The evil one conceals himself, and comes with his very polite friends, knocking at the door, asking permission, but then moves in and spends time with the man and, little by little, starts giving the orders.” -Pope Francis

    I don’t know if all that is appropriate but its the first thing I though of. Too many times after tragedy parents go out with the message “psychiatry never did anything but harm my child but keep using it on yours” Their are several ‘parents of mentally ill children’ forums online and that’s all they do is parrot that.

    I am sorry for you loss and thank you for writing here.

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    • Rick Warren wouldn’t use those words. He’d say nonsense like, “Despite the best psychiatric care my son killed himself.” But if his son had died outside the psych system it would be, “If only my son had remained ‘meds’ compliant he’d be alive.” No one calls folks like that out on this double standard of thinking. You find it in NAMI forums all the time.

      I guess we should feel sorry for him, but someone should (gently) ask him, “Rick, if psychiatry couldn’t save your son why are you so determined to force it on others?” My guess is Matt Warren was quiet and shy in a family/megachurch that worships extroverted behavior. His introvert tendencies and failure to conform led to a label of chronic depression.

      Lately Rick Warren has embraced the pseudo science of quantum mysticism. Quantum mysticism is to quantum physics what astrology is to astronomy. Or psychiatry to neurology.

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  2. That was beautifully written and fills me with love for you and your daughter. I was suicidal in my tweens as well. I was met with complete rejection but wasn’t medicated. I was also medicated for bipolar when I was older. So I can probably relate with you more. I’ve also never attempted but lived with it for most of my life. I’m not positive what makes people jump, but I know what stopped me.
    1. My own body. Unmedicated depression heavily leaned me towards inaction. The closest I got to death was not eating or drinking, and I wasn’t very close.
    2. Memories of happy moments. One was very spiritual and another was pure joy.
    3. Acknowledging people cared but wouldn’t possibly understand. There was never a note I thought I could write. There was always someone to help me, sometimes badly, but there was help
    4. My cat.

    If someone didn’t have these I could see it happening. She sounds great. People alive have A LOT weirder beliefs than dead boyfriends and get to be heads of state or religions. Take care ❤️. I hope you get off those meds and continue to speak for her and yourself.

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  3. Welcome, George.

    I’m so sorry you daughter did not survive. It is beyond tragic that it took her death to illuminate the lie that very likely killed her. Thank you for telling your story. May it reach parents (and teens) far and wide, and make them ask themselves the questions and gain the insight before it is too late for them. And in that way, Martha’s death could be the wreckage in the road that keeps them from traveling that same path and heading over the cliff too. In an odd and twisted way, Martha’s death could save many lives. I know that is no consolation. I’m so sorry. My heart goes out to you.

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  4. First, George, I’m sorry for the loss of your daughter Martha. I just now visited her webpage, and looked at the photos in the gallery. I’ll spend more time there later, reading her writings. But one thing struck me about your stories here, based on my own life experiences. I think I need to share it. When Martha told you about her “Russian lover”, maybe it wasn’t as ONLY as “precious” as you describe it being for her. It’s possible that one reason she told you, was to “test” you. I remember once when I “came out as gay” to my parents at the dinner table. I wasn’t at all gay, but I was only saying that because it was the most outrageous, and hurtful to my parents thing I could think of to say to them. I wanted to shock them, test them, and mess with their heads. It was in partial retaliation for what my parents had said and done to me.
    I’m only playing “MAYBE….”, and “WHAT IF?”, here, but I feel I need to share my idea here with you. Is it possible that it wasn’t that you didn’t take her seriously enough, but rather that you took her TOO seriously?
    I think the grief and mourning process will continue for the rest of your life, of course.
    I’m basing my comments also on my own direct experience. My parents took me to a psychiatrist in 10th grade. I got a bogus “diagnosis”, and a prescription, and the next 20+ years of my life were wasted because of it. There’s NO DOUBT in my mind, that psychiatry and psych drugs did me FAR MORE HARM than good. I’d like to think your writing here, George, is part of a healing process, and an honor to Martha’s memory. Thank you, and may God Bless you. ~Bradford

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    • As a young person who has had severe delusions due to bipolar disorder – I can say that she most likely did believe that she was in love with the Russian and that she actually was communicating on him at some level (spiritually). Truth is she could have been communicating with his spirit or a different entity pretending to be him. I wasn’t very religious until I began having these types of delusions. I think there is a spiritual component – and this is completely ignored by the main stream aethiest scientific community.

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    • My point is: being told that you are completely insane when what you are telling someone something that is true on some level is incredibly painful (in that moment). I can go back and laugh at delusions I had. For example, one time I was convinced the CIA was breaking into our house and stealing my under wear (lol). My husband didn’t take me to the mental hospital as my family had in the past. He went through all the laundry, found all my under wear, and showed me that it wasn’t likely because there was less under wear missing than I expected. In that moment, it was incredibly embarrassing to immediately switch to thinking something I fully believed was outrageous. I held on to it. And he let me. He said but maybe they are but we are going to do a better job at keeping the house all locked up and the security system on. If someone does break into the house, our dog will bark. To this day I get micro delusions where I think someone is in the house and the first thought that calms me down is that my dog hasn’t barked, he is very sensitive and protective. This gives me the courage to check the house myself and know that no one is there. Now, because I had a lot of time to distance myself from the delusion (we simply didn’t talk about it for months after I stablized) I can finally look back at the delusion and laugh. I cannot laugh about almost any other delusion I had because the way I was ripped out of them was so devestatingly painful and embarrassing. This was a major difference between how my family reacted and how my then boyfriend and now husband reacted. He saved my life. He has a lot of bipolar people in his family and he had the experience to know what to do. It’s incredibly rare and I was very lucky.

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      • Bradford: Thanks for your comment. I know for a fact that Martha believed in her Russian prince, Aleksei, because since her death I’ve read her diaries, which I never read during her life and were written for her eyes only. She wrote her diary as letters to Aleksei professing her love for him–and did so for a year before she divulged her secret to me. So this was real to her, not a made-up story to test me.
        RockieRaven: Thank you for your perspective. I wish I had heard of your husband’s approach to delusion at the time Martha told me about Aleksei. It seems much more considerate and humane than telling the person she’s delusional and taking her to a psychiatrist, which is what I did to Martha. I think people could benefit from hearing more about your experience and what works best for you.

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        • I believe Emily Dickinson wrote her love poems to a highly idealized lover who may or may not have been based on a real human being. If they had “medicated” her they might not have helped her socially, but would likely have cured her massive poetry output. Ditto for Van Gogh’s paintings.

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          • Rachel777: That’s a good lead about Emily Dickinson. Thanks. Bipolar people are often highly creative, like Van Gogh, and I agree that medicating them might deprive the world of some of their best work. Fortunately, in Martha’s case, her creativity shone despite the medication. But I think the pressure to be “normal” was a factor in her decision to die, and thereby cost the world any number of great works she might have produced–not to mention the cost to me personally.

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  5. My condolences on your loss, George. Stay strong, and thank you for sharing your story.

    I hope LavenderSage is correct, and sharing your family’s story “could be the wreckage in the road that keeps [others] from traveling that same path and heading over the cliff too. In an odd and twisted way, Martha’s death could save many lives.” I hope your sharing your beautiful daughter’s story does save many lives.

    And I’d just like to share a theory from what was for me a spiritual journey, but was called “bipolar” (actual anticholinergic toxidrome induced) “psychosis.” The theory is actually based, in part, also on a song. It’s called “Closing Time,” here are some of the lyrics:

    “Closing time, Time for you to go out go out into the world … Closing time, Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl … Closing time, You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here. I know who I want to take me home … Take me home. Closing time, Time for you to go back to the places you will be from. Closing time, This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or you sisters come. So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits I hope you have found a Friend. Closing time, Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Yeah, I know who I want to take me home. I know…”

    My so called “psychosis” turned out to be about an awakening to my dreams where I learned about the theorized “collective unconscious” that supposedly exists within our dreams. I believe we are all “one in the Spirit” within the collective unconscious of our dreams. And God is, or will be doing, a final universal judgement of the living and the dead within this spiritual realm. So He hoped we all “found a Friend.”

    It could be true that Martha did find her true love within the collective unconscious, even though he is a dead person. Maybe it’s crazy to hope your daughter found her soulmate within the theorized collective unconscious. But none of us really knows, and hoping for the best is not actually crazy. And understanding “every new beginning comes from some other beginnings’ end,” might provide a modicum of hope. I hope and pray for a wonderful and love filled new beginning, for both you, and your beloved daughter’s soul. God bless, and thanks for sharing your story, George.

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    • Someone Else: Thank you for your condolences. I think you have a beautiful understanding of what others considered your “psychosis.” I haven’t made sense yet of what Martha was doing in loving Aleksei, but I no longer think it was delusional in the sense of being false. On the contrary, I think it was true, but true in a way that I haven’t yet grasped. Maybe it pointed to God; in her journals, she often connected her love of Aleksei with her love of God. Whatever it was, I wish I’d let her follow it in peace, and I want to learn from it now, by reading her writings about it.
      RockieRaven: I too have found that psychiatry is fundamentally atheist. My bipolar manias have often included intense religious feelings and perceptions. When I told a psychiatrist I was feeling more religious, I asked if that suggested mania to him. He said, “Always.” Then he raised my dosage. It’s as if part of the purpose of psychotropic drugs is to keep the spiritual from intruding on the material.

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      • Hey George – I am so sorry for your loss of the beautiful Martha.

        I think you are onto something when you say her love of Alexei was pointing to God. Sometimes in the path to God, we need to make it personal in order to connect to Something which is Beyond us, unfathomable, unknowable.

        When I listen to love songs, I often listen for the You. “You make me feel” “I see You in the Stars” etc. etc. and I find that when I substitute the Divine for You, these silly love songs become Worship of the Divine.

        In learning to love Alexei, she was in training for loving God. And, eventually, in training for a real relationship with a manifest Human Being. But she needed to learn to love Herself first – and Alexei was the key to that. Perhaps a representation of her Animus?

        There is also the untouchable nature of Alexei. He cannot hurt her, he cannot betray her, he is always there for her. So in loving the impossible – she is safe to love.

        Thank you for sharing her story.

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        • Thank you, JanCarol. I think you have good insights into what Martha was doing in loving Aleksei. Martha was devoted to popular love songs, and in her imagination she often redirected them to Aleksei, as you redirect them to the Divine. I’m reading her journals now, and I find she gave a lot of thought to the relation between Aleksei and God. At first she prayed that her love for Aleksei wouldn’t violate her love for God; later she declared that she would love Aleksei even if she lost God in the process. I have to read more to find out where things stood at the end of her life. It also seems that Martha recognized Aleksei as her other self or true self, and that she was aware that in loving him she was avoiding the heartbreak that could come from rejection. I have only began to understand what Aleksei meant to her.

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  6. I was 21 when I first hospitalized myself for suicidal thoughts. Since then I have been hospitalized against my will seven times. Every time I went into the hospital I got worse. I didn’t realize it at the time but the reason why I was getting worse was because my family was not supporting me (at all). For example, during my third hospitalization (which was my first manic episode caused by Zoloft) they decided to illegally take my dog to the pound. The reason why my family wasn’t supporting me, was because I was unable to communicate and the hospital did not attempt to communicate for me. When I went in voluntarily, the psychiatrist, social worker, and therapist all talked to me for hours and helped me problem solve, until I finally felt better and checked myself out to go home. That was the only voluntary stay and the only benefial one. Going to the hospital involuntarily was a different story. Most of the patients there involuntarily do not have a mental disorder such as depression or bipolar: they are drug addicts being forcibly detoxed off drugs. The psychotic ward is a different planet compared to the suicide ward. My “mental health team” talked to me inifisuslly for just a few minutes every few days. They treated me like everything I had to say was crazy (it wasn’t, I was a victim of kidnapping at the hands of an ex boyfriend (he kept me for a week) and went to the ER. No one believed me there or in the mental hospital because of my record.) and there was no point in talking to me at all. At this time they are charging my insurance $2000-$6000 a day – and I mostly sat in a dayroom full of criminals with nothing to do but be terrified that one would snap and hurt or kill me. They offered no therapy, no family therapy, almost nothing but a room with bars on the window. Don’t blame your self for her death. In most cases, it is entirely the hospitals fault. They failed to inform you how you could help her (because they haven’t even researched what is best or attempted different strategies to figure it out, ever). They did nothing to help her and instead put her in a stressful, dangerous, humiliating environment against her will. They save money by throwing all the people who are only mental disordered and not drug addicts into the same wards. People with actual mental disorders are the tiny minority. You can easily understand how counter productive this is. Suicide rates three months post discharge are 15 times higher. The suicide rate the immediate week following a discharge is 264 times higher than the national average (for women). you want to help prevent this from happening: learn more about the hospitals your daughter did not receive treatment from and spread awareness that mental hospitals will only cause more harm and do nothing to help (98% of the time, imo). This is why your daughter died. It’s not your fault. You are blameless. You did what you could with the tiny amount of information that was available to you.

    Source for suicide rates: https://ebmh.bmj.com/content/8/4/114

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    • I also want to add: medication when someone is already in crisis is so incredibly dangerous. Medication has to be expiremented. Some medications will help a lot, but many others will make things a thousand times worse. Should you take that gamble when someone is already on the verge of suicide? The issue is that it takes two weeks for most psychiatric drugs to start making a difference. Therefore, any negative effects aren’t noticed until two weeks after the medication is started. At that point, you can’t simply go off the medication to stop the negative effects. You have to ween off slowly and try something else, with the drugs still effecting you for weeks or months. Drugs should be experimented with overtime when a patient is already very stable. Drugs are a prevention, not a cure. When someone is in crisis – especially their first one, treatment should primarily be therapy. However, therapy for psychotic people is non existent. You actually have to have a special certificate in most states to be legally allowed to treat a psychotic person. For two years I was psychotic and alone, and I searched my entire state and could not find one therapist that is trained to work with actively psychotic people. So I experimented with drugs and went in and out of hospitals. Attempted suicide twice (once after over three months of planning). Until I found: a boyfriend that could help and medications that actually worked. Hoping to magically be prescribed the drugs that will work for you your first go around is like expecting to win the lottery. It doesn’t happen. But mental hospitals only use drugs and they convince families that they will probably work. When it is the opposite. People don’t go off their meds because “they started to get better and didn’t think they needed it anymore” like all these stupid websites and main stream media claims. People get worse on their meds and have to go off them to save their own lives. Try being in a crisis caused by medication and your psychiatrist won’t see you for two weeks. What do you think is going to happen? They also pretend like it’s the physical side effects that people go off of meds for. No. The meds made me so manic I lost my mind. The meds made me so depressed I was about to kill myself. But it’s my fault I’m not getting better because I’m “not giving them a chance to work.”

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    • RockieRaven: Thank you for your insightful comments. I intend to research and write more about these issues and your experience is very helpful. As is the study reference you gave me, which says, “Suicide risk is greatest immediately after psychiatric hospitalisation and hospital discharge.” It’s hard for me to imagine this being acceptable in other medical areas: for example, if a study found that risk of death from appendicitis is greatest after appendectomy. Everyone would realize that appendectomy did not cure appendicitis but only made it worse. Somehow, the standards of evidence in psychiatry are so low that psychiatrists think this is acceptable. I want to fight that level of ignorance with all the strength I have, for the sake of my daughter who died from it.
      streetphotobeing: I feel the same way. In 15 years of treatment with drugs, the only time I was in danger of dying was when I got lithium toxicity syndrome–which means I was being poisoned by the drug that was supposed to save me! Many people swear that they are helped by their drugs, but count me out.

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  7. Sorry about the loss of your daughter George. Been on drugs since age 18 in the spring of 92, but it was a tiny amount. I took an SSRI anafranil in the fall of 93 and stayed awake for 3 weeks straight. Went bonkers, but the psych doctors refused to acknowledge the drug was responsible. Got labeled “bipolar” and believed I was a monster. I threw self control to the winds–due partly to “good insight”–but also the inability to control my thoughts or feelings on the drug cocktail. Went from depressed to full blown insane.

    I wondered if I had a soul. No one understood my existential crisis when I tried to tell them. Even religious people. If I needed a drug not to commit heinous crimes against humanity how could I be a true human being?

    Turns out the drugs were making me crazier. And believing I was hopelessly insane made me want to cleanse the world of the monstrous blight that was me. Off the drugs now. And I have rejected my label. I am a fully sentient, ensouled human being. Not a machine or trained animal.

    And I have a stronger conscience than a lot of prominent “soul doctors” I know.

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    • Bravo, Rachel777! You are indeed a fully sentient, ensouled human being, not a machine or trained animal. That’s what psychiatry doesn’t realize. I’ve been religious most of my life, but at the time of Martha’s love for Aleksei, under the influence of my own psychiatric treatment, I was an atheist, a thorough-going materialist who thought human beings were machines, chemical complexes whose problems could be fixed with the addition of the right chemicals. I no longer believe that, but it took Martha’s death to teach me. I think she died for all of us–to show us that life is more than what the psychiatrists say.

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  8. I am very sorry for your loss. As a parent of a son diagnosed with “schizophrenia” and then promptly medicated, I too wonder about whether the rush to medicate is like going after a fly with a sledgehammer. Not that something significant isn’t happening, but I agree with Szasz that these are problems with living. Problems with living can be understood by most people and handled with varying degrees of success, but medicalizing a behavior makes it strange, horrible and alienating for all concerned. This is the modern way and in my opinion, it is not progress. Okay, this is showing my age, but here’s an example from my childhood that shows how differently the same situation would be handled today (an age of hyper-alertness to what may be just passing behaviors. As a child my younger sister used to go into a sort of semi-trance like state where she would lie on her bed for perhaps 30 minutes or so and spin bits of yarn or string in front of her eyes while whispering to herself and drumming her fingers on her shoulder. My parents had never heard of autism. How did our family sensitively deal with this situation? We made fun of her and imitated her behavior. Sending her to a psychiatrist never entered my parents’ minds. Eventually my sister outgrew the behaviour. I regret the medicalization of my son’s behavior, but there was no competing philosophy that was widely known at the time.

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  9. Thank you George for sharing this heart breaking story of your beloved daughter Martha. The death of a child is the worst nightmare a parent can face and the tragic story of her untimely passing will be of help to parents and other people in similar circumstances. I visited the website you dedicated to Martha and all she has written. It is a wonderful legacy and tribute to her writings and her memory. Martha certainly was a cute, adorable baby and a lovely young lady. I am so sorry you lost her at such a young age.

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  10. Don’t blame yourself, George. You got duped by the #FAKESCIENCE , as millions of people have been. People shouldn’t pay an unbearable price for trusting the so-called “experts”. They alone deserve to be blamed for the death of your daughter. I extend my deepest condolences to you and everyone who loved her.

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    • George Ochoa,
      The best of luck to you as you seek to shield others from the fate your Martha suffered. I did a similar thing after losing my child (to a psych. drug) many years ago. Our family “believed” in psychiatry, too, and we have suffered in addtional ways from its “treatments”.
      My one suggestion is to keep an eye on your own health as you enter this fray. I found it extremely taxing, demanding, emotionally draining, and finally had to “put down the sword”, reduce my advocacy, and move to a more peaceful place geographically so as to take care of myself. To me, there is nothing more difficult than losing one’s child, no matter what the cause – but this reason is particularly difficult.
      My heart goes out to you.

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      • Thank you for your kind advice, ebl, and please accept my sympathies for the loss of your child. I agree that nothing is harder than losing one’s child–nothing I can imagine, anyway. I will keep in mind your suggestion that I watch my health as I pursue this cause.

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  11. Thank you for your moving story. I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter. It seems there are two (or more) camps regarding how to respond to mental illness: treat it, or let it be. But Martha was competent enough to be admitted to Columbia before she committed suicide. Should the same rules apply to her as to the psychotic homeless people that we see on the street in major cities like San Francisco? I, for one, would want to be medicated against my will if I was found sleeping in my own feces or ranting on the street. Maybe psychiatric medication is not the enemy, or the savior, but one option to be tried with a gentle hand? I was very interested in RockieRaven’s story about how her husband responded to her delusion. That sounds like the Cognitive Behavior Therapy I heard about at a NAMI conference last year, which many professionals say is ineffective for major mental illness. But treating people with dignity and respect is always therapeutic. God bless and good luck to all of us struggling to help each other and ourselves.

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    • Psych drugs like neuroleptics can sometimes calm people down if they’re upset. But if people are sleeping in their own feces or ranting in the street they can be helped without drugs at all. They did this a lot back in the 19th century and long before by showing the “mad” person TLC and helping them rest and eat properly. (For my part, I was nervous and depressed till psych drugs made me rip snorting crazy.)

      In the old days there were few life long madmen or madwomen because “madness” was understood to be a state of mind that was usually transient in nature. Not a life sentence. A lot fewer people became career mental patients. Then the Victorian asylum keepers found they could make big profits in locking up “crazy” relatives and keeping them insane with cruel treatment.

      For a bird’s eye view of the evolution of modern psychiatry and its inflexible bio-model, I recommend Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker.

      I do agree gentleness, dignity, and respect are good treatments for human distress.

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    • pcferg: Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I know many people who, like me, are bipolar, and many of them swear by meds; some even say meds saved their lives. I would not want to deny them access to anything they think helps them. OTOH, from Martha’s case and my own, I know that the cost of viewing madness as mental illness and treating it with meds is great. This is true even in extreme cases such as those you mention, the homeless mad. I used to live and work with homeless mad people, and although medication calmed them, it often took away things of great value, such as the full expression of their personality. One schizophrenic I knew, Lena, refused to go on meds until she got tired of being psychotic and assented to them. She was then much more sedate, but much less Lena. Because of that kind of experience, I am opposed to forcibly medicating even the homeless mad, although, like Lena, they should be free to choose it if they wish. As for CBT, I’ve undergone it and I don’t think it showed respect for my dignity; rather, it asserted without argument that my thoughts were distorted and erroneous and had to be corrected by replacing them with CBT-approved thoughts. Were I to address you that way, I doubt you would regard that as respectful. I don’t have all the answers about how the mad should be treated. But even without answers, I am determined to tell the story of what happened to Martha in the hope that answers will become clear in time.
      Rachel777: Thank you for the book reference. I agree it is helpful to look back at the history of social views of the mad to get perspective on current views. It then becomes clear that the modern concept of “mental illness” is relatively recent, and that the people who were most served by it, such as the doctors who thereby gained a new means of making a living and enjoying privileged status as “psychiatrists,” may have interests that are not identical with those of the people who are supposed to be served by it, i.e., the mad.

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      • Thank you, George. I mentioned the “two camps” (medicate or don’t medicate) to my sister, and she said you can’t join a camp, you have to respond to the particular situation. That sounds right to me. There’s no one answer. We are all looking for answers, and each person’s answer may be different at different times. I guess that’s why the medical community and family members and people living with mental illness have such a hard time knowing how to make things better. Your writing is thought provoking and inspirational. Thank you again for telling your story.

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  12. Dear George
    martha’s writing was truly beautiful thank you for sharing her work and all good wishes for your journey and in reducing your own drugs x. zoloft and respiridone almost killed my child i am lucky he has escaped the system but the damage done to him is slow to heal

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  13. My firstborn and lovely one left in one sudden efficient moment when she was 16. Back in ’95.

    I have lived the territory of this as a shaped charge, and I live and walk a different world for being so undone.

    Pharma – to the best of my knowing – played no part in either her life or mine – though chain smoking was for some time my ‘handle’ of a sense of inability to handle.

    In my life, her death – her chosen suicide – activated me to live – yet in the stark sense of not knowing how.

    The answer being shown me, that of course I didn’t recognize in concept – was living me.
    In every cut through to the true of a great love I stayed with and felt and let flow.
    In every shift to me and my story mind – I chose not to feed it – and gave attention somewhere else.
    I could say this was a visceral embodiment of aligning in the Holy Spirit and letting the ego shout without demonising or reacting to it. Those terms are just terms I am accustomed to use. The voice for life is not clinging to survival, but abiding in the willingness of love. That’s my witness.

    I took what I needed because my need was fundamental – I was undone of my foundation – and therefore open to the movement of living from a true, rather than presuming truths were for me and my life to work better – in my terms.
    I did not welcome or appreciate sympathy – but I understood that most needed that DISTANCE. I did NOT accept or feel obliged to carry their upset and make it better for them – yet that was their action.
    Love’s honesty simply did not what to say and yet abided with me. True compassion is not a destructive distancing or dissociation under a sense of sympathy – but a genuine companioning. Being with.

    My then wife had the opposite movement to me. I needed to open all the windows and doors in terms of knowing I needed to let life in. She needed to shut all the windows and doors to keep death out – and let no more loss in…

    There are deeper Soul aspects to why we have the movements that we do. But I don’t think they are a problem needing solution excepting that whatever comes to me is for me to integrate or recognize the truth of and accept the true of it. I see that fear operates a self-fulfilling prophecy and that our hidden fears work us unawares – as a sense of trying to control or make sure ‘never again’. No one can look on what they are not ready to look on, and so they see what they can see or in ways that they can keep some sense of control.
    The whole notion of chaos and control, or a presumption of possession and control meeting lack of support, betrayal or rejection and abandonment is an ongoing recycling of a love of control, that borns and is born of a hatred of lack or chaos, to enact a ‘controlled love’. Whether with behavioural incentives or coercions or medical impositions.

    “It’s Life. Jim, but not as we know it” as the Star Trek line goes.
    That we are undone of what we thought to know and be – is a basis from which to ask, and feel and look, with new eyes.
    In this particular and unique life, are these key themes played out this way.
    My acceptance is that the life I have come to live, is more of a themed focus in ‘territories’ of the Soul – even under the sense of a world experience that cuts, sunders or suddenly leaves.
    I used to think I had a ‘waking up’ life – as if it was me that was going to awaken.
    There is a sense of a continuity of self – but so much that I thought was me is undone and what moves in the space that opens is of a different world – and so there is another ‘theme’.
    I see the ‘stranger in a strange world’ theme and seek to release it to a true belonging from which to live and give – even with the separate ones who know not what they do. So I don’t invest in self-pity or grievance, but let the cut of love become the connected loving.
    That’s the nearest I have to finding the gift within the madness of a self-destructive mind given power.
    Its a journey to begin, always from the now of a recognition I have slipped into self-negative habit patterns.
    Of course this awakening of self-responsibility meets every ‘pattern’ of resistance in time and over time.
    It’s the other way than running away – because it embraces and accepts running away – without paying it for a new game.
    Does that make any sense?
    It takes one to know one – and that means the true of us can and does communicate on some level even when the forms don’t seem to line up, or the signal is blocked, or the lines are cut.

    No one can change what they are not the willingness to own. Accepting what is – is not succumbing to a story about it. But it is the basis from which an old story can release to allow a fresh appreciation. Such as I find willingness, let me live it.

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    • binra, please accept my condolences for the loss of your daughter. I know it was many years ago, but since I have suffered the same type of loss, I know it is always fresh and the sympathies of others are always welcome. Your meditation on your life since is very helpful and there are many ways in which it parallels mine. I almost killed myself when Martha died, and only by emerging from that place did I find my reason to live. I live for the sake of life itself, but not in the way I understood it before. Before I thought life was just fitting in with society while trying to maximize this or that pleasure and avoid death. Now I care not a fig for society, death, or any particular pleasure. What I care about is love–real love, my love for Martha, telling the story of her love for Aleksei, no matter how crazy society says it is. As you say, “The voice for life is not clinging to survival, but abiding in the willingness of love. That’s my witness.” Mine too.

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  14. I have no words. I can only recommend a book, a book that helped me understand the meaning of suicide, and it was “Suicide and the soul”, written in 70s, by James Hillman. It was, and it is still, a revolutionary book, unknown book, negated book. I can also recommend Re- Visioning psychology. Those books helped me to understand the ideological lies that have nothing to do with psychology, suffering ;and that we are living in completely anti psychological reality. To understand psyche is to accept the death reality. I recommend Hillman to everyone who is looking for the truth about psychological reality.

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  15. People see suicidal person as a weak one, because they are thinking in theological way… And we supposed to think in PSYCHOLOGICAL way – EGO can not win with death reality, it is to small to cope with this extremely lethal power. Not everyone can touch this difficult reality and so they do not have idea about what they are talking about. Apollonians do not have idea about what they are talking about, when the talk about suicidality, psyche….

    Ego can be crushed by death and that can lead to bodily/biological suicide, (we are dead already, because death is mainly a psychological phenomena, and death is for those who are alive) There is also a great abyss between ego in apollonian reality and ego in Death (Hades) reality. It is psychology, it is mythical, this is not a science, and never will be a science. When we talk about psychological realty we talk about the phenomenology, which was completely destroyed by theology and Kraepelin and company.
    The problem with materialists (psychological apolllonians) is that death for them starts and ends in the grave.

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    • danzig666, this post is very suggestive. I hadn’t thought of thinking in terms of an opposition between the Apollonian and the Hadean. I am with you in not regarding suicidality as a weak position; on the contrary, I think it shows great courage to be willing to part with everything you know and cast your lot with something you don’t know at all. Martha had that courage. Had I understood her courage when she was alive, I might have applauded her for it and asked her to stay with us longer so we could all benefit from her example. I didn’t understand it; I saw it as a symptom of illness. No more.

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  16. Hey, George, I realized I forgot to mention:

    Regarding tapering off the psych drugs- the vast majority of doctors don’t know what they are doing, and the guidance they offer is usually inferior to that of the Real Experts- people who have successfully navigated their own taper from the same drug. I encourage you to get in touch with the online support groups that can help you in that process.

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    • Thank you, LavenderSage. I am part of an online support group, but I notice they are heavily skewed to staying on their meds and following their doctors’ advice. Whenever you mention a problem you’re having, they’re inclined to say, “Ask your doctor to adjust your meds.” If you know of any support groups that may have a different perspective, please let me know.

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      • yes, please stay away from that- those who have drunk the kool-aid are in no position to offer anything resembling support.
        There’s survivingantidepressants.org, I see that a lot on here. I think there’s other good survivor-focused resources too, but I’ll need other folks to chime in about them (slipping my mind right now).
        Most docs are unwilling to de-prescribe, and have no real knowledge of how to taper safely, so anybody who refers you back to your doctor is not a resource.

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      • Thanks Rachel and LavenderSage for advocating Surviving Antidepressants.

        Our goal is to help reduce or eliminate the drugs. Definitely not a pro-drugging site. We cannot advocate that you become non-compliant with your doctor, but our suggestions definitely differ from mainstream medical perspectives.

        It’s not as warm and fuzzy as a support group. Moderators look at your cocktail and advocate for reduction, and can help with adjustments according to half lives and drug interactions. But the onus is on the Member (that would be you) to choose and decide what is best for themselves.

        There are some warm fuzzies between members (but as a moderator I do not participate in those).

        It’s better to go in there when you are moderately stable, than it is to wait until there is an inevitable drug crisis.

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        • Well I’ve never been to the site, but like I said, I’ve seen it on here a lot, with folks having good things to say. It was 15 or so years ago that I cold-turkeyed off effexor without actually intending to. During the chaos of a move, I forgot to ingest the drug for a week or two when I suddenly had intense dizziness and low blood pressure (not scary low, just low) and it dawned on me that I hadn’t been taking the drug. I decided to ride through the withdrawal, and relied on a lot of cannabis (indica strains) to help get me through it, which helped with other things, but didn’t lessen the vertigo. It did give it a context, though, which alleviated the anxiety I felt at being that dizzy all the time. Took a little over 2 weeks to be ok enough again to function.

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        • I don’t advocate non compliance either, assuming you have a choice. I didn’t. No way my Medicaid funded conventionally minded psychiatrist would let a “severe” case go off any of the 3 drugs recommended for the “bipolar” whose “symptoms” I don’t even have.

          As Monica in the BeyondMeds site said make sure to educate yourself first! I waited over a year till I felt confidant to start my taper. Effexor was the worst as far as withdrawals go.

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          • I absolutely advocate for educated noncompliance. When I told my doctor I wanted to go off meds, she intentionally took me off quite quickly, knowing full well I’d go into withdrawal, and then literally made me beg her to represcribe, making me admit to “needing” my “treatment”. That is abuse. After that experience, I tell doctors what they need to know. This is my body, my mind, my life. And I have not told someone to go off meds under medical supervision since that happened to me. As Oldhead says, psychiatry is a tool of social control. It is not medicine. And unless the patient is seeing a prescriber that’s reluctant to use medication to start with and will fully support the patient in a slow taper, it is absolutely best to not tell them what you’re doing. Unlike JanCarol, I’m not in the business of giving anything approaching medical advise. I’m giving advice on saving your life, and sometimes saving your life means not telling someone who has power over you that you plan to take that power from them, especially when you may find yourself in a weakened state during that time that you need their support.

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          • Oldhead – here’s the thing about *not* advocating non-compliance.

            In order to taper a drug, one needs someone to prescribe it for them. This process can – and should – take years. You can’t just ditch the doc – or if you do, you’d better be able to get one who won’t make matters worse.

            What you do with the drug when you get home (cut it up, crush it, dissolve it in liquid, weigh it out into gel-caps, count beads – whatever it is) is your business.

            But in order to taper one needs a prescriber. How much you tell your prescriber is your business – but many “psych patients” are conditioned to “be honest” and “tell everything” about their thoughts and feelings. At SA we cannot say that “our methods are superior to your doctor’s” but we know that they are. We do sometimes say that “doctors don’t understand these drugs.” It’s a fine line.

            We prefer that people don’t report every symptom to their docs, because of what happened to kindredspirit (it happens all too easily). We prefer that people don’t go to hospitals for their withdrawal distress, because they nearly always switch up the cocktail. We prefer that people don’t come back to us and say, “But my doctor said I could just quit….” or whatever the doc’s advice is, because we know that a disaster will follow, and we will likely be the ones to address the mess. “Prefer” is different to saying, “don’t listen to your doctor, he’s an idiot.”

            The power is in the hands of the members, to choose how to heal.

            We clean up after doctors. And hopefully the members learn to hack their own problems without getting doctors involved in their mood, extreme states, even certain physical symptoms (like akathisia or sexual dysfunction – drugging these is never a good option). The less you can report to a doctor, the better.

            In withdrawal, it is common to have cardiac issues. These should – ALWAYS – be checked out. Sometimes there are symptoms that seem like brain damage – by all means get it checked out (but we often find it’s just the drugs). If it eases worry to check out physical symptoms, then by all means do. But please, when visiting a doctor, don’t talk about anxiety!!!! (especially if you are a woman)

            Personally, my mood is my business, and I get angry when a doctor (even an osteopath) talks about me as “anxious” or “depressed” or “we need to fix your sleep” or whatever – I never use these words with them, and it’s stunning to see how frequently they still come back to me.

            Kindredspirit – as an individual I am in complete agreement. Educated non-compliance is the best way to survive and heal. It’s just that in SA, we cannot dispense medical advice over the internet.

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          • JC, this is another level, I was speaking more generally, as I mentioned to Rachel. I’m not talking about “non-compliance” as ignoring everything a M.D. recommends regarding withdrawal and doing whatever the fuck you want. That would just be falling into the same quagmire from a different direction.

            “Non-compliance” as I would define it is simply taking charge of your own life and not adhering to the psychiatric narrative. One part of that, for some people, might well involve a supervised taper from drugs, as opposed to following psychiatric “advice” to continue on them indefinitely OR going cold-turkey.

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          • Jan, my cardiac issues started long before the taper. Those drugs damage the human heart. Doctors must know this.

            My lengthy cardiac test revealed bad arrhythmia. An MA gave me the news and hung up immediately. No comments from her or the FNP who ordered the complicated test. 🙁

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  17. To talk about psyche and suicide as if it was a biological issue, it is barbarism. Read people, Suicide and the soul,chapter IX – PATHOLOGICAL BIAS.

    “Psychological disorder comes to mean childhood disorder, and the search is on for dissociating the present into past, the complex into simple, the psychological into material traumata. ” James Hillman.

    “As Dubos has said – this idea of health is utopian, it allows no place for realities of human health, which include disorder and suffering at every turn.”

    “The pathological bias has confused pain with suffering, numbing us to both.”

    “PHISICAN NO LONGER WORKS EMOTIONALLY, BECAUSE HIS PREDILECTION FOR SCIENTIFIC PATHOLOGY TENDS TO REMOVE HIM FROM THE UNDERSTANDING OF SUFFERING IN FAVOUR OF THE EXPLANATION OF DISEASE”

    The logos of suffering can not be described by a pathology textbook which uses clinical terms for soul experiences.

    ————————————————————————————————————
    The wrong cure, or the right cure at the wrong time, does more harm than the open wound.
    —————————————————————————————————————
    James Hillman

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    • danzig666: Very interesting, thanks. I especially like the quote, “The wrong cure, or the right cure at the wrong time, does more harm than the open wound.” This has been true throughout medical history. For thousands of years, doctors harmed and sometimes killed their patients through the accepted treatment of bloodletting. Possibly, we will one day look on today’s psychotropic drugs as the contemporary equivalent of bloodletting.

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  18. George, I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter. I have known many relatives of folks who have decided to let go of life and it is hard because we have a great taboo about talking about this part of life.
    And trying to get help and not realizing that the help was mostly a sham. Those of us psych survivors and our family members again run into another great taboo. Silence can be con ie this but it hurts in the short and long term.
    There is also the issue of abuse and I have no idea where your daughter was in that issue. My grade school had a cluster of suicides but it was a Catholic school and there were issues but who know?
    I appreciate your courage and please keep in exploring and learning.
    My idea is to have trauma centers that are available 24/7 to all with all sorts of support and separate from any medical connection.
    Everyone could use it.
    Take care of yourself and read the old stuff I Trauma there are some gems in the dust.

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  19. I’m sorry for your loss. You did the best you knew how with the information that you were given. Neuroleptics and antidepressants can cause suicide. It may be as simple as one pill. I would take solace in knowing that your daughter was not lonely. To love as she did is a beautiful sentiment. As I am sure you love her more every day. That’s not crazy.

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  20. Heartwrenching. We panic, we want to fix what we have been thought ‘broken’ means. We don’t want it to become ‘worse’. You said what you said from the indoctrination readily available. Life or death, often changes our perspectives, often harsh lessons. What is so dark is that it does not change psychiatry. Why would it. After all, they join the club from an early age and by the time they realize what they are part of, their job security and ego security is set. I think many never even reach a point of realization because it is always someone else’s problem. It is the most difficult thing to look at oneself, and so it is for psychiatry. The human part is not there for them. It’s tragic really.

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