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Blalock Lecturer Offers Hope To Those Contemplating Suicide

November 10, 2000
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

by Emily Drew '04
Kay Jamison
Dr. Kay Jamison speaking in Love Auditorium.

In the United States, 30,000 people take their own lives each year. Every 17 minutes in America someone kills his or her self. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people age 15-19. One million high school students will attempt suicide this year. Suicide is the number two killer of college students. 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a renowned psychiatrist and author, presented these facts at her October 19 lecture "Suicide and its Prevention," sponsored by Davidson's Health Center, the Speakers Committee, and the Class of 1990. In her talk in Love Auditorium, Dr. Jamison tried to educate the audience of the real danger and possibility of suicide. "Suicide is not a rare event," she stressed.

Dr. Jamison opened her lecture with an excerpt from her most recent book, Night Falls Fast, which describes her own battle with mental illness. Dr. Jamison first experienced suicidal notions as a high school student, and has suffered from depression throughout her life. Her book recalls her experiences, and explores "the destructive forces of mood."
Kay Jamison with members of Class of '90
Dr. Jamison (r) seated with Tom Goodrum 90 (c) and Dr. Boyd Gillespie 90 (l), who introduced her and the lecture series to the audience.

Dr. Jamison's illness spurred her interest in psychiatry, and allowed her to understand her patients and their situations. But professional taboos made it difficult to be honest with colleagues about her own problems. "The fundamental injustice that surrounds mental illness enrages me," she said. When her employer, Johns Hopkins University, supported her decision to eventually reveal her history of mental illness, the institution set a new standard for medical acceptability.

Dr. Jamison noted that many patients can be successfully treated for mental illness. "Depression and Bipolarism are two of the most treatable diseases in medicine," she said.

She supported her statement with charts revealing the effectiveness of prescription drugs in preventing suicide, and she also spoke about the effectiveness of education and awareness. An open discussion of mental illness in schools, colleges, universities, and community settings helps people recognize problems early, she said.

Symptoms of mental illness include agitation, anxiety, sleep disorders, psychosis, and impulsive behavior. Although often hereditary, anyone can suffer depression and should be aware of the warning signs, which, usually surface in the teens and early twenties. Alcohol and drug abuse also tends to evoke depression.

Dr. Jamison cited recent success in public awareness of mental illness, as highlighted by the Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Prevent Suicide 1999." She noted that it is first research publication on mental illness ever by an American Surgeon General.

Dr. Jamison ended her lecture with plea to those who suffer from mental illness, quoting Scottish poet Douglass Dunn, "Look to the living, love them, and hold on," she said.

A question and comment session and reception followed her speech.

Dr. Jamison currently divides her time by lecturing, writing, and teaching at Johns Hopkins University and St. Andrew's University in Scotland.

Question after lecture
Dr. Jamison took questions from members of a large Love Auditorium audience following her talk.

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