While working on our posts on suicide awareness & prevention, I found this incredible lecture given by Dr. John Campo. Simply put, Doctor John Campo talks candidly about suicide in young people. This moving speech was given on February 14, 2015 at the Ohio State University campus in Mershon Auditorium. Excerpts from his lecture are included with this post. The excerpts are given in his voice (first person voice). The video follows the excerpts. This video is courtesy of the TEDX YouTube Channel via their Standard YouTube License. At the end of the post, you can download the PDF transcript I created of the entire speech.
- It’s a privilege to talk to you about suicide in young people; an enormous public health problem that hasn’t received the serious attention that it deserves.
- My goal today is not just to capture your attention about the problem, not just to really sound the alarm but to encourage you to take this problem seriously and hopefully to act accordingly.
- Early on in my medical career I understood that adolescence and young adulthood were really the period of maximal risk when it comes to the onset of mental illness and addictions. However, I considered psychiatry a frivolous way to make a living.
- Due to the personal mental health crisis of a dear friend and medical colleague, I was forced to confront my prejudices regarding mental health care. I realized that I was not unlike many other people, and not unlike many of my colleagues in medicine in that I tended to think about mental illness truly as having more to do with some sort of personal failing or character flaw, than I though about it as a real illness, like asthma, or cancer, or diabetes.
Important Facts About Suicide
- Suicide is among the ten leading causes of death across the life span and across the world, but its impact is particularly profound in adolescence and young adulthood, where it’s the second leading cause of death in the United States. Only accidents kill more young people.
- In 2013, nearly 4,900 people between the ages of 15 and 25 killed themselves. That represents almost 20% of all the deaths in that age group. That’s three times the number of deaths in that age group due to cancer. And what’s even more shocking is if you add together all of the deaths due to cancer, deaths due to cardiovascular disease, deaths due to diabetes, deaths due to respiratory illness like asthma and cystic fibrosis, deaths from pneumonia, influenza, meningitis, and HIV, and you add them all together, more people die by suicide in that age group.
- If you find that shocking, I think that’s probably a good thing, because one of my goals today is to capture your attention.
The True Story of Kevin
- When Kevin Hines was 19 years old, he decided to kill himself after several weeks of severe depression and distorted thinking. Kevin suffered from a bipolar disorder.
- Kevin left his home in San Francisco and started walking towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Like most acutely suicidal individuals, he was ambivalent. He kept changing his mind, going back and forth from wanting to die to not wanting to die.
- Kevin decided that he would not kill himself if he was interrupted by one person on his way to the bridge, that is if one person tried to help him or asked him how he was doing.
- While standing at the bridge someone tapped Kevin on the shoulder. With tears streaming down his face, Kevin turned around to see a woman holding a camera. The woman politely asked Kevin if he would take a picture of her at the bridge. Because he is a nice guy, Kevin took her picture. He took the woman’s ambivalence as a sign to kill himself.
- Kevin now convinced that nobody cared, threw himself headlong over the rail.
- As he started to fall, Kevin realized that he did not want to die. And he also realized that all of the problems, all of the pain that felt so insurmountable really was solvable with one painful exception. And that was that he was probably falling to his death.
- Now Kevin is not alone in terms of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Over 1,200 people have killed themselves since the bridge opened in 1937. But Kevin isn’t one of them. Kevin’s a rarity. He’s one of a handful of people who survived that jump to actually come and tell us about it. And as he fell, he prayed for God to save him; righted himself in the air, and miraculously, he is a very powerful advocate for suicide prevention in the United States.
- So what about the woman, right? It would be very easy to think, ‘What a rotten person!’ She didn’t care about poor Kevin. But I don’t think that would be correct, and I don’t think it would be fair. I think that woman was a lot like me with my depressed friend. And I think she’s a lot like many of us when it comes to the problem of suicide. Maybe she was preoccupied, not paying proper attention. Maybe she didn’t really grasp the seriousness of the situation in front of her. And maybe she just didn’t know what to do.
Advocacy: The Invitation
- I want to invite you to join me and people like Kevin in taking the issue of suicide in young people seriously.
- The first thing is that I invite you to begin to think about yourself as an advocate. What do advocates do? Well, Proverbs 31:8 calls us to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves; for the needy, for the destitute. And to judge their situation fairly. What would that mean here? We know that the vast majority of people who kill themselves suffered from mental illness, or addiction, or both. And we also know that areas that have better access to mental health and health services, in those areas, the risk of completed suicide is lower. So if we’re serious about the problem, we need to be advocates for better access to mental health and addiction services, and for better services. If we’re serious about better services, we need to be advocates for more and better research, because we don’t know nearly enough about preventing suicide in young people.
- I think it’s critically important that we approach this problem with a sense of hope- and I believe it’s realistic hope- and positive expectations. You know Nihilism didn’t get us the polio vaccine, and it’s clearly not helpful to us when we think about this problem of suicide. If anything, it’s clearly a detriment. Look around, think about it for a minute. I want you to think about this next year. What would be an acceptable number of suicides in young people? What would be an acceptable number of suicides in the folks and people like the folks who are in this audience today? IF you’re like me, you come to the same conclusion, which is: it’s zero. And that our tolerance for suicide in young people should be a zero tolerance.
- What else does it mean to be an advocate? Well, part of being an advocate means that we need to challenge ourselves and others by asking questions, and sometimes, uncomfortable questions. Question#1: How can we help many of our colleagues in general medicine and workers in emergency departments to begin to think more about mental illness, and addictions, and psychiatric crises as opportunities to save a life? More than simply some sort of petty annoyance, or distraction from the work of what we’d like to think about as ‘real medicine.’
- Question#2: How can we ensure that our societal investment in preventing suicide is at least comparable to the investment that we make in a variety of disorders that have far less in the way of public health impact?
- Question#3: And then finally, we’re here today on the Ohio State University campus, so it seems to me an appropriate question ‘Is what would the Big Ten be like if these great universities cared more about which of the campuses competed more, for which campus would be the first one to be suicide free than which campus had the best football team? What would that be like? Think about it for a moment.
The Video Download Speech Transcript
About Dr. John Campo
Dr. Campo, a nationally recognized expert in child and adolescent psychiatry, was named chair of the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry in 2012. He has been at Ohio State since 2006, and is the former director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and medical director of Pediatric Behavioral Health, a joint position serving Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State. Board certified in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry, Dr. Campo is the recipient of Innovation in Pediatric Practice at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. His interests include the relationship between medically unexplained physical symptoms and emotional disorders, psychosomatic medicine, and the delivery of evidence based behavioral health interventions, most notably in primary care. Dr. Campo has been honored as a NAMI exemplary Psychiatrist.