Why people kill themselves (and others) — Part 1 (of 8) “I’m going to kill myself”

Dr. Goulston’s “I’m going to kill myself” lecture at UCLA

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What follows is a series focused on people who kill themselves (Parts 1–7) and kill others (Part 8)

During my training as a Psychiatry Resident at UCLA, I had the good fortuneto have Dr. Edwin Shneidman, a pioneer in the study of suicide as an early mentor. Ed not only helped me begin my practice and specialization as a suicide specializing psychiatrist by making referrals to me (see: Living Through Wanting to Die), he also had me speak to his “Death and Suicide” class at UCLA for more than ten years during the late 1980’s and early 1990's.

In my presentation, I always role played a suicidal college student and challenged the 250+ undergraduates in the course to talk me out of killing myself. After twenty minutes, they never could and I would pull the trigger on the gun I brought. Following that I would share with them what they could have asked or said that would have caused me to surrender and not kill myself.

I extended my doing this interactive role play presentation/training to training FBI and police hostage negotiators, utilizing a similar role play with them. But in their case I played a police officer who was himself suicidal after having shot an unarmed teenager a year earlier. I selected that role to play because I wanted them to make an effort to save one of their own that they may not have made had I been an agitated suicidal civilian.

Although both presentations/trainings were well-received (see: testimonial letter from Dr. Shneidman and from the FBI), I was never able to create a training program that could train people to do what I did in breaking through and preventing suicides.

After more than twenty years treating suicidal patients, I experienced compassion fatigue and began to transition out of psychiatry and into the business world, applying my psychological skills there.

In the process I would also write seven books, several of which went on to become best sellers.

However, with the increase in suicide rates in recent years, I have reawakened my passion and commitment to lessening depression and preventing suicide. Fortunately, my experience working in the business world has also taught me to “scale” my work by creating processes that others can use without me.

What follows in this, “Why people kill themselves,” series are materials that I hope will enable others to break through to the depressed people in their lives and prevent suicide.

I am not wedded to what follows and am open to other’s comments on how to make these approaches better.

Now, let’s all go and save some lives.

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