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A Life of Contributing to Suicide Prevention

June 13, 2004

Re "His Work Is Still Full of Life," June 5: Suicidology pioneer Edwin Shneidman reminds us that preventing this ultimate act of despair remains a central problem for mental health systems and professionals. Ten percent of individuals with mental illnesses like schizophrenia take their own lives.

The seminal work of Shneidman, Norman Farberow and Robert Litman spurred rigorous research and development of effective medications and specific psychotherapies. Their legacy includes the Suicide Prevention Center at DiDi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in L.A. and its many equivalents elsewhere, and the sharp focus by the Office of the Surgeon General and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill upon suicide as a public health problem.

Contrary to his own humble assessment, Dr. Shneidman's contributions are no more a footnote to suicidology than are the roots of his pittosporum footnotes to a tree.

Roderick Shaner

Medical Director

L.A. County Department

of Mental Health

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