“While Rome Burns”

A leading psychiatrist says the 24 percent increase in the U.S. suicide rate is “shocking” and “chilling,” and is blasting the government for failing to respond to America’s mental healthcare crisis as a national emergency.

Jeffrey Lieberman sounds his alarm in a commentary published on May 13 by Medscape called “While Rome Burns: Addressing Rising Suicide Rates.” He is chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and director of the Department of Psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. His commentary was prompted by a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics showing spikes in suicide rates between 1999 and 2014.


Read the full text and watch a video of his remarks here.

Extracts of Lieberman’s commentary:

The death rate by suicide and by other forms of passive self-destructive behavior are all related to mental disorders. We know that 90 percent of individuals who take their life by suicide have pre-existing mental disorders and that major causes or antecedents are mood disorders, psychosis, posttraumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse. This is a problem that has long been known and has suffered from inadequate attention, stigma, and underfunding (both in terms of clinical care services as well as biomedical research). And this problem continues to worsen, as reflected by the shocking statistics, with continued inactivity on the part of government policies, legislation, and funding priorities.

… [I]f you look at the response in terms of any type of action being taken from a policy or healthcare initiative standpoint, nothing is being done. To put this into context economically, these are major public health problems, the most egregious manifestations of which are these recent statistics on suicide and declining longevity in that age group due to self-harming behaviors related to mental disorders. Yet, the amount of money that is being spent on studying them has not changed, and it is an inadequate amount in terms of the overall federal budget.

It’s hard to understand why these rates, which are really the tips of the iceberg of an overall chronically failed mental healthcare policy in this country, have not risen to the level of a national emergency, like Zika virus, Ebola, or AIDS years before.

I can only think that the reason is that there is a stigma attached to mental illness. It relates to drug abuse and the conflation of things that are not medical conditions and may relate to failings in moral character or behaviors that are sinful. I’m speculating egregiously, but I just can’t understand the basis for viewing these statistics with dismay, shock, and concern and then having inaction. We’ve seen this with other cases before. We’ve seen it with civilian massacres and mass violent incidents, which usually result in cries of rage and indignation and a rush to do something to not let this happen again, and then devolve into partisan political arguments and parochial concerns, finally leading to nothing being done.

I urge you to not just read up on these latest developments but to express your concern in a way that might be influential, either through the media, to your governmental representatives, or in any way that you can, so that services and funding priorities are brought in line with these public health concerns.

Heads Together

A very high-profile boost for mental health awareness in Britain and beyond: on May 16, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) and Prince Harry are launching Heads Together, a campaign to “end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.” Says Kate: “Mental health is just as important as physical health.”

The Heads Together website explains the royals’ motivation:

Through our work with young people, emergency response, homeless charities, and with veterans, we have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges.

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives. Heads Together wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.

Being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year is the perfect springboard for the Heads Together campaign. We cannot wait to see hundreds of runners hitting the streets of London next April to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.

Heads Together aims to raise more than a million pounds along with its eight charity partners. Its website will host The Conversation, a platform to “bring the conversation to life” through a mix of informative and inspirational stories, messages, discussions and pictures.

Be Happy!

Amour de soi (French, n.): lit. ‘love of oneself’; self-esteem that is not contingent on others’ judgement.

Asabiyyah (عصبية) (Arabic, n.): togetherness, community spirit.

Cafune (Portuguese, n.): the act/gesture of tenderly running one’s fingers through a loved one’s hair.

Gigil (Tagalog, n.): the irresistible urge to pinch/squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished.

Naz (ناز) (Urdu, n.): assurance/pride in knowing that the other’s love is unconditional and unshakable.


Tim Lomas, a lecturer in applied positive psychology at the University of East London, has published the Positive Lexicography Project. His aim was collect words in foreign languages that described positive traits, feelings, experiences, and states of being that had no direct counterparts in English.

Check out “The Glossary of Happiness,” the New Yorker’s piece on the Positive Lexicography Project:

Those who believe in linguistic determinism, the strictest version, might argue that a culture that lacks a term for a certain emotion—a particular shade of joy or flavor of love—cannot recognize or experience it at all. Lomas, like many modern linguists, rejects that idea, but believes that language affects thought in more modest ways. Studying a culture’s emotional vocabulary, he said, may provide a window into how its people see the world—“things that they value, or their traditions, or their aesthetic ideals, or their ways of constructing happiness, or the things that they recognize as being important and worth noting.” In this way, the Positive Lexicography Project might help the field of psychology, which is often criticized for focusing too much on Western experiences and ideas, develop a more cross-cultural view of well-being. To that end, Lomas—who is currently using untranslatable words to enumerate, classify, and analyze different types of love—hopes that other psychologists treat his glossary as a jumping-off point for further research.




#mentalillnessfeelslike is a great project to raise awareness about depression. One participant posted a BuzzFeed video, “Living with a Mental Disorder,” which has been viewed by a million people.

Some other contributions from people tweeting the hashtag:

#mentalillnessfeelslike an uncontrollable emotional tornado and having to apologize over and over again for the mess it causes.

#mentalillnessfeelslike being the life and soul of the party on Wednesday and not being able to get out of bed on Friday #anxietywar

Depression feels different for everyone. Recognizing my symptoms was important for me to get a grasp of my struggle. My hope in posting is to help someone identify the same symptoms he or she may be experiencing and reach out. You’re not alone. #depression #nostigma #mentalhealthawareness #mentalillnessfeelslike