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The loss of celebrities and Monterey County mental health professionals to suicide proves that it does not discriminate.

Monterey County Weekly - 6/14/2018

The day after celebrated fashion designer Kate Spade died, after hanging herself in her Manhattan apartment on June 5, fans worldwide grieved. "She was a trailblazer," Jenna Bush tweeted. "Her life and death are a reminder that pain doesn't discriminate."

Pain and suicide do not discriminate, a takeaway that would strike close to home the next day, when Dr. David Soskin, formerly the chief of psychiatry at Natividad Medical Center, drove off Highway 1 at Hurricane Point in Big Sur. He died of apparent suicide, according to the Monterey County Sheriff's Office.

"It's a sad reminder that suicide can affect anyone, even people who are involved in mental health and appear to be 'untouchable' by it," says Evan Marsh, assistant operations director of Suicide Prevention Service, a program of the nonprofit Family Service Agency. "We are all affected by loss, and we are all affected by grief, including mental health professionals. Nobody is immune, mental health professionals included. We're all human."

It's the second time in less than two years that suicide has touched the county's behavioral health team. On Nov. 18, 2016, Robert Jackson died from suicide after 18 months on leave from his job as Behavioral Health Services manager. (Jackson was placed on leave after clashing with Soskin at work.)

Soskin earned his undergrad degree and M.D. from Harvard, then went on to serve on the faculty there, where his research focused on the relationship between depression and inflammation, among other subjects. He developed a website called Open Source Psychiatry as a resource for patients and clinicians, with links to information on things like mindfulness lectures and medication dosages. (Soskin had resigned from his position with Monterey County last August.)

Two days later, news broke that another celebrity, Chef Anthony Bourdain, had died from suicide. To Marsh, it's another reminder that suicide doesn't discriminate.

"We all have our private selves and ourselves we present to the world," he says. "Public figures are no different."

Marsh hopes the public nature of Spade and Bourdain helps the public talk more openly and comfortably about a subject that's uncomfortable. In 10 years working in suicide prevention, Marsh can see the bias; even at health outreach fairs, people avoid his information table. "What makes suicide such a difficult topic to talk about and work with is it's so complicated," Marsh says. "Some people have very obvious signs; in some people, they're very subtle. We're not used to talking about it. The more we talk about it, even in general conversation, it becomes easier. It reduces the stigma."


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