I guess your thread (that just came to my attention) has been going a long time. Perhaps my response is still of interest. I read Hanna Rosin’s article on the Silicon Valley Suicides with great interest. Until very recently, I lived just a few miles north of Palo Alto. My beloved daughter, a recent Stanford graduate, took her own life in 2002 as a result of an adverse reaction to an SSRI antidepressant.
It was totally unexpected and out of character despite a brief period of mental distress due to insomnia and career upheaval. At the time she died, she was under the care of academic psychiatrists, whom I have now come to believe were a large part of the problem in her death rather than any solution. I know that in at least one of the cases Rosin referred to in her article, the young woman who jumped off an overpass, the victim was also under the care of revered professionals.
It’s my premise that not only the culture of Silicon Valley, but also, almost more importantly, the nature of the remedies that are being proposed in the name of mental health counseling, are to blame in these deaths.
Because I recognized immediately that my daughter’s death was the result of agitated and highly disturbed behavior brought on by medication adjustments in the last days of her life, I became a student of psychopharmacological safety and effectiveness. What I learned was highly disturbing. The FDA is far from a protector; it’s largely the puppet of pharmaceutical industry interests. Psychiatry itself is in the pocket of industry and promotes a highly flawed biomedical model for mental illness that divorces itself almost completely from the trauma and dysfunction that drive most symptoms of mental distress.
I co-founded the website SSRIStories.org, now administered by Julie Wood, who wrote an excellent series of articles (available on RxISK.org) about the significance of what is revealed in that database. I also testified at FDA hearings in 2004 and 2006 and my testimony, along with those of several other victims and survivors, led to a black box warning on antidepressants, which is all too often dismissed a decade later.
While I realize it would be reductionist to say that the suicides going on in Palo Alto are solely the result of adverse reactions to medication—not simply antidepressants, but also stimulants and other treatments that may have been started in childhood—this is still an issue that should be seriously considered. It is no secret that stimulants are now being promoted as a cognitive performance enhancer and Silicon Valley is a prime market for these drugs. [Related discussion in Notes here and here.] But how many people also know that they are a segue to other psychotropic drugs, since stimulants often lead to depression and/or mania? How many children are being labeled “bipolar” or “clinically depressed” because of their response to treatments they are receiving rather than any underlying condition?
As Ms. Rosin so poignantly (though implicitly) points out, these children are not suffering from “brain disease,” but rather some glaring societal and cultural pressures that are inappropriate and damaging. And these children and their parents are not being adequately alerted to the potential for harm of psychiatric drugs. Mental health professionals, least of all, understand that these drugs come with enormous risks of, yes, suicide and self harm, but also chronic dysthymia, sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders etc. etc.
The medications are not helping to alleviate the other broader pressures that exist in the environment (how could pills really do that?!); they are exacerbating those pressures, which is why, in my opinion, the number of suicides continues to grow.
How many of the victims in Silicon Valley were already being treated for mental disorders and how many had labels that are debilitating to live with when it’s the environment that should have the label, not the students? How many were taking medication, which is disabling and harmful over the long term, reducing rather than enhancing coping skills, unless used in a very cautious and short term way?
Mental health counseling, as it is practiced today, is, in so many cases, actually aggravating the problems rather than mitigating them. This is an issue very much worth investigating further for the sake of our next generation.
Thanks to our reader for sharing her personal and impassioned story. Anyone in the psychiatric community or pharmaceutical industry want to provide a different view of medications used to treat depression and other mood disorders? Drop us an email.
Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin opened up to his fans in a long and heartfelt Facebook post last week that addressed his experiences dealing with professional and academic pressure, as well as suicides in his high school. Lin wrote that his reflections were prompted by the cover of this month’s Atlantic magazine, “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” a report of how expectations on high school students in the tech mecca could drive them to the brink of a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — depression.
Lin as a freshman sat next to a classmate who committed suicide, as did one of his friends the following year. From his Facebook post:
The pressure to succeed in high school is all too familiar to me. I distinctly remember being a freshman in high school, overwhelmed by the belief that my GPA over the next four years would make or break my life. My daily thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery.
That passage reminds me of one of the emails still sitting in our inbox, from a current senior at a high school “situated in the district of St. Louis with the highest median annual income.”
Anything less than perfect is inexcusable. And of course it’s overwhelming. I starting seeing a therapist my sophomore year.
It’s a common joke among my friends about how often we cry. (Though we almost certainly never let the others see.) It feels that a single mistake can end one’s future. I took a lit class sophomore year, and the teacher taught a lesson on cause and effect. She wrote this down: “Cause: You don’t study for your math test. Effect: ? ”
We were to fill in the effect. Most of the students filled out standard answers (You fail the test, your parents get mad, you get detention) but my friends and I, the high-achieving AP students plunked into a required course, differed. Almost uniformly, we wrote, “You fail the test. You get a poor grade in the class. Your GPA lowers. You don't get into college. You work minimum wage the rest of your life.”
This twisted script of cause and effect is rote to us, innate, and unquestionable. A single mistake ruins your life. Academia is horrifically high-stakes to us, and the pressure is awful.
I’m in five AP classes. I’m also on the speech and debate team, and National Honor Society, and president of the school’s a capella club. I love to write, so this November I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I landed a main role in the spring musical. I sleep less than six hours a night.
I’m not trying to complain, but merely attempting to give context for this: my GPA is a 3.9. I consider this a failure because it is not a 4.0. And even though it’s perfectly understandable because I do take on a lot, it’s still a failure, because, theoretically, getting a 4.0 would have been possible. A friend of mine is president of the speech and debate team, vice president of our National Honor Society, president of our black students coalition, and in 5 AP classes as well. She has a perfect 4.0. Why shouldn't I?
Despite my course load and extracurriculars, I’m actually in a very good place, mentally. I’ve only cried twice this semester, and I feel tentatively optimistic about semester finals. But acceptance decisions for Early Action and Early Decision college applications come out next week and the one after. And my friend—the president of the debate team with a 4.0—broke down in tears last week because she has a B in AP Chemistry. So the stress never really ends.
Thanks to Hanna for writing this article. I haven’t seen many like it. (I did, however, watch the documentary Race to Nowhere last week, which focused similarly.) I hope that in the future, things will change.
Following the two clusters of youth suicides in Palo Alto in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have sent a five-person team to conduct an epidemiological assessment, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
More from the Mercury News:
The assessment will survey the extent of the health problem and track trends, as well as identify risk and protective factors, in coming up with recommendations for prevention. [...] Students and other community members have already taken numerous steps to support teens to discourage them from harming themselves. Schools are starting later so that students can get more sleep. Gunn High School students created a student support group. New fencing rims the Caltrain tracks. The school district and city have offered sessions on parenting and mental health issues. And counseling services have been expanded.
I am a 2012 Paly graduate, currently studying at Washington University in St. Louis. I’ve read Hanna Rosin’s “The Silicon Valley Suicides” four times now, but it feels like a hundred. The story is honest and true, and Rosin provides a clear overview of what has happened in Palo Alto, but it offers little that is new, at least not for someone who lived it. Rosin’s insights into Suniya Luthar’s research and the parallels between high achieving and underachieving inner-city and affluent kids are interesting and welcome, but ultimately the article provides a bird’s eye view of a community that deserves much more than that.
Here’s more from another reader, Jeremy Neff:
I grew up in Palo Alto, down the street from where the Blanchards live. I graduated from Gunn in 2012 and now I am a senior at George Washington University. Like everyone who went to Gunn when I did, I have powerful memories and emotions pertaining to the suicides of my peers. Below is my personal experience with suicide and a few current thoughts I have on the matter.
One drizzling night in early 2011, I sat in the lonely darkness of my home and wondered why I had to keep living. I was 16. I thought about how easy it would be to not do anymore homework, to not have to worry about whether I was cool, to not have to struggle to succeed in any of my passions, to not have to deal with any conflict, loneliness, or sadness.
It was 1 a.m., past my usual bedtime, and I was exhausted but still I couldn't sleep. I wanted a long rest. I didn’t think about how much my family loved me or about how my friends would cry years later when Facebook said it was my birthday or how everyone that knew me would feel unshakably sad at even the slightest mention of suicide.
Instead, I wondered how J.P. did it. I wondered if I could do it. I wondered if I had the strange courage one needed to walk two blocks to the tracks and let Caltrain sweep them away.
J.P. lived a block down the street from me. When I was 11, he came over for my older brother’s birthday and laughed when I made jokes about how nerdy my brother was. He was absolutely my favorite of my brother’s friends.
His suicide was also part of the reason I opened my front door and walked down to the crossing that night. I don’t know what I would have done if a train had come. Would I have remembered that killing myself would ruin my parents’ lives and hurt so many people? Or would I have made an impulsive leap and given up the mysterious struggle that awaited me in the rest of my life?
I stood in the shadows by the tracks for half an hour before I realized that Caltrain doesn’t run past midnight on weekdays. I didn’t tell anyone for five years, especially not my mother.
Looking back, it is hard to fully understand what drew me so close to tragedy. Certainly I had struggled with depression in the past, and had taken medication until I was 14. But I wasn’t struggling with depression in high school. Perhaps it was the feelings of inadequacy that come from being surrounded by brilliant and impressive people that drove me to consider suicide. But I definitely thought I was at least a little brilliant and impressive to some people, so that couldn’t be it. Mostly, I think I just thought nothing was worth living for.
Years later, at the ripe old age of 21, I look around me and see how I can matter in the world. I see how I can inspire someone, tell a story the world needs to hear, heal a community, bring ease or comfort to people who deserve it, or even just show one person that they are absolutely and without question beautiful and loved. But at the time, everything was just a selfish chore to help me succeed in the future.
For me, high school felt like a time to prepare so I could matter later. But that's wrong and unhealthy. My friends died and I could have too. It is wrong to think that being 16 is any less of a reason to tell a story, to heal a wound, or to make someone feel loved. And it is unhealthy when 2000 students at Gunn are doing great things like that every day, but feel selfish and unfulfilled because at the end of the day their accomplishments are going on a college app where all the beauty of their passions is reduced to a vain attempt to “be the best” and go to a selective college.
If you asked me what should be done, we could talk for hours. But I think most of it comes down to perspective and mental health. If only students fully understood how different the rest of the country was than Palo Alto, I think they would have monumentally less fear about succeeding and monumentally more optimism about how they could use their abilities to matter in the world. And if everyone had the same attitude about mental health as they did about physical health (such as having six-month mental health check-ups and getting easily excused for mental sick days), I think students would both have better mental health in the first place and feel less of a stigma when it came to reaching out for mental health care.
But as the article seems to conclude, it is impossible to be certain what might make a difference or why someone might find so much solace in death. I still don’t know why I walked down to the tracks that night, and I don’t think I ever will.
Sure, it may be true. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive.
“Your refusal has cost all of us,” President Joe Biden said to unvaccinated people last week, as he announced a new COVID-vaccine mandate for all workers at private companies with more than 100 employees. The vaccinated, he said, are angry and frustrated with the nearly 80 million people who still haven’t received a vaccine, and their patience “is wearing thin.”
He’s not wrong about that. For people who understand that widespread vaccination is our best strategy for beating the pandemic, the 25 percent of Americans who still haven’t received a single shot are a barrier to freedom. Their exasperation is warranted.
But bullying the unvaccinated into getting their shots isn’t going to work in the long run.
What I learned about transcendence from a very boring 100-mile trek
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Last month, a survey by the travel industry found that a majority of Americans changed their vacation plans this summer because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. But not everyone canceled their vacations entirely; travel spending has been almost as high this summer as it was in the summer of 2019. Some would-be adventurers simply found ways to do the exotic things they’d planned to do overseas in less exotic places. One of my friends, for instance, went bungee jumping in North Carolina instead of Costa Rica.
For my vacation, I did the opposite: I went with my family to a fairly exotic place to do a distinctly unexotic thing. I went to Spain and took a very quiet 100-mile walk.
Vanishingly few people have legitimate reasons to avoid COVID-19 vaccination. Some say their doctors told them not to get vaccinated anyway.
In the battle against vaccine hesitancy, many officials have suggested that people talk with their doctor if they have concerns about getting vaccinated. This advice makes a certain amount of sense. Primary-care physicians are typically the doctors patients trust most, and doctors deeply understand the benefits of vaccines. The American Medical Association has claimed, based on a survey it conducted, that 96 percent of doctors are fully vaccinated.
In recent weeks, though, I’ve heard from several people with an interesting excuse for waiting to get vaccinated: They say their doctors told them not to. Most of the people I spoke with requested anonymity so they could share sensitive health information. Most would also not give me their doctors’ names in order to shield the providers from negative consequences. The doctors whose names I did get did not return my calls or declined to comment for this story, leaving it unclear what they really think about vaccine exemptions. Some of the people I spoke with may simply be vaccine-hesitant and trying to blame a doctor for their own choice to delay or forgo getting a vaccine. But because doctors are a large and relatively diverse group of people, with varied training, credentials, and personal politics, it makes sense that some doctors would have incorrect views about vaccination.
The United States has allied with Britain and Australia to form a new anti-China grouping.
A new world is beginning to take shape, even if it remains disguised in the clothes of the old.
The United States, Britain, and Australia have announced what is in effect a new “Anglo” military alliance. The basics are these: In 2016, Australia struck a deal with France to buy a fleet of diesel-powered submarines, rejecting an Anglo-American alternative for nuclear-powered vessels. In March this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (or, “that fellow down under,” as Joe Biden referred to him), began talking with Washington about reversing its decision. Then, last night, in a live three-way public announcement, Biden, Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that the Australians would scrap their agreement with France to team up with Britain and the U.S. instead, forming a new “AUKUS” military alliance in the process.
A new study suggests that almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic cases.
At least 12,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19 this month, as the country inches through its latest surge in cases. But another worrying statistic is often cited to depict the dangers of this moment: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States right now is as high as it has been since the beginning of February. It’s even worse in certain places: Some states, including Arkansas and Oregon, recently saw their COVID hospitalizations rise to higher levels than at any prior stage of the pandemic. But how much do those latter figures really tell us?
From the start, COVID hospitalizations have served as a vital metric for tracking the risks posed by the disease. Last winter, this magazine described it as “the most reliable pandemic number,” while Vox quoted the cardiologist Eric Topol as saying that it’s “the best indicator of where we are.” On the one hand, death counts offer finality, but they’re a lagging signal and don’t account for people who suffered from significant illness but survived. Case counts, on the other hand, depend on which and how many people happen to get tested. Presumably, hospitalization numbers provide a more stable and reliable gauge of the pandemic’s true toll, in terms of severe disease. But a new, nationwide study of hospitalization records, released as a preprint today (and not yet formally peer reviewed), suggests that the meaning of this gauge can easily be misinterpreted—and that it has been shifting over time.
The battles over “virginity testing” and “virginity-restoration surgery” reveal the persistence of dangerous pseudoscience.
In the Middle Ages, a royal bride would be inspected before her wedding night to make sure she was a virgo intacta—a virgin with an intact hymen covering the entrance to her vagina. “The Hymen is a membrane not altogether without blood,” wrote the 17th-century court obstetrician Louise Bourgeois. “In the middle it hath a little hole, through which the menses are voided. This at the first time of copulation is broken, which causes some pain, and gushing forth of some quantity of blood; which is an evident sign of virginity.”
In reality, some girls are born without a hymen, while others tear the membrane long before they have sex, most commonly by exercising or, today, by using tampons. Yet the demand for virginity testing—typically, a gynecological exam in which a doctor looks for the presence of a hymen—has proved surprisingly durable. In 1979, the British government performed one on a 35-year-old Indian woman who had traveled to London to get married, in order “to see whether she was, in fact, a bona fide virgin.” (The Guardian later revealed that immigration officials subjected more than 80 women to such tests from 1976 to 1979.) The Egyptian authorities used the pretext of virginity inspections to assault female protesters during the Arab Spring in 2011, and until July of this year the Indonesian military regularly performed such assessments not only on female recruits, but also on the fiancées of its male soldiers.
Will the Black body ever have the opportunity to rest in peace?
The photographs are about the size of a small hand. They’re wrapped in a leatherette case and framed in gold. From the background of one, the image of a Black woman’s body emerges. Her hair is plaited close to her head, and she is naked from the waist up. Her stare seems to penetrate the glass of the frame, peering into the eyes of the viewer. The paper label that accompanies her likeness reads: Delia, country born of African parents, daughter of Renty, Congo. In another frame, her father stands before the camera, his collarbone prominent, and his temples peppered with gray and white hair. The label on his photo says: Renty, Congo, on plantation of B.F. Taylor, Columbia, S.C.
In 1850, when these images were captured, the subjects in the daguerreotypes were considered property. The bodies in the photographs had been shaped by hard labor on the grub plantation, where they’d spent their lives stooped over sandy soil, working approximately 1,200 acres of cotton and 200 of corn. Brought from the fields to a photography studio in Columbia, South Carolina, each person was photographed from different angles, in the hopes of finding photographic evidence of physical differences between the Black enslaved and the white masters who owned them. A daguerreotype took somewhere between three and 15 minutes of exposure time, and the end result was a detailed image imprinted on a small copper-plated sheet, covered with a thin coat of silver.
To celebrities, the red carpet of the Met Gala is like an average person’s front lawn: a place for making bold statements. The event, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, is made for flaunting ostentatious couture. The dress code is determined by a theme—this year’s was “American Independence,” in honor of a forthcoming exhibition—that can be interpreted however an attendee prefers. Tickets are $35,000 a pop. And for four hours, the invitees—normally the most relevant cultural figures of the year—get to mug for the camera before heading inside. As a red-carpet co-host, the actor Keke Palmer, declared at the top of last night’s show, “You can never go wrong with a message.”
Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.
If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.
Grills are more than adornment. They’re about Black agency.
There’s a poem most Black people know, and even if you don’t know it, at one time or another you’ve lived it or seen someone you love live it.
It’s a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar called “We Wear the Mask,” his seminal ode to how Black folks must show one face to the world and another to ourselves. The verse begins, “We wear the mask that grins and lies” and tells a Black American story, about what it feels like to be treated like a problem.
This, too, is a story about that, but it’s also about gold teeth and grills, two words for mostly the same thing: a beauty we chose together, the grin that wears a mask all its own.
Samiah Rahim, 28, a certified diamontologist in New York, has two golds, commissioned from a jeweler she met at a party in 2019. One is a window around her right canine, the other a gap filler between her two front teeth. Front gaps are common in Rahim’s family. She figured the best way to honor the gap was to pour gold into it. Her gap filler did its job—it sits between Rahim’s front teeth in a rectangle of light. Without knowing it, Rahim was continuing a tradition that has existed for nearly 3,000 years.