The One Big Taboo No One in the World Wants to Talk About

4256940366_c23c3c0e0d_oFive years after I was born, my father tried to take his own life. He ended up in a mental hospital and I grew up wondering what happened to my father and if it would happen to me. My mother later married an alpha-male powerhouse who conned her into believing he would make everything better in her world, but left her, and me, alone and despondent.

I believe our childhood wounds have a great influence on who we become as adults. It’s no accident that I become a psychotherapist and an author with books like The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet and The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Aggression and Depression.

Becoming a therapist didn’t guarantee that I would magically gain the wisdom to help other people, or even be able to help myself have a joyful life. I married right out of college and we had two children. Despite our best efforts our marriage began to falter and it ended after ten years. After grieving the ending, I soon fell in love again. I was fearful of another loss, but we got married with great hope for the future. That marriage lasted three years. After the ending of my second marriage I became depressed and I began suffering from heart irregularities.

After writing another book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, I vowed I would figure out what had gone wrong and how I could find, real lasting love. I met Carlin and we’ve now been together for 36 wonderful years. I wrote a book about what we learned, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. I feel this is a very hopeful time for men, women, and couples, but t

Simply put: More and more of us are giving up on life. Suicide is becoming a path of relief from pain for millions of people and our national leaders seem to have given up on solving the real problems we face in the world, including climate change, violence, ecological destruction, and economic dislocations. They remind me of irritable old men screaming at each other from adjacent deck chairs on the Titanic.

Although violence towards others captures our attention, suicide takes the lives of more people than are killed in all forms of interpersonal violence.  “There are more than one million people who die by suicide each year in the world, which is more people than die from war, terrorist attacks and homicides every year. So more people kill themselves than are killed by other people,” says Lanny Berman, Ph.D., president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP).  Further, world-wide, males kill themselves 4 times more often than females and in the U.S. the suicide rate for males is 4 to 18 times higher than it is for females, increasing dramatically with age.

When we are sick in body, mind, or spirit, we often turn to our doctors for help and healing. But even our healers are killing themselves in record numbers. But doctor suicides are a part of the larger taboo against confronting our collective loss of hope for a better future.

One doctor who refuses to be silent is Pamela Wible, M.D. “Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide,” says Dr. Wible, “and nobody ever tells patients the truth—the real reason they can’t see their doctors ever again. Nobody talks about our doctors jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.”

Dr. Wible recently gave a TED-Med talk, “Why Doctors Kill Themselves,”  and she wrote a moving book, Physician Suicide Letters Answered by Pamela Wible, M.D. Reflecting on her own student experience she said, “No student wants to become a doctor in order to kill themselves. It’s the ultimate oxymoron: the barefoot shoemaker, the starving chef, the suicidal doctor.”

Dr. Wible found answers in her own life and decided to change how she practiced medicine, founding her own “Ideal Medical Clinic” and teaching other health-care practitioners how to do the same. She wanted to understand this ultimate taboo subject. “So what the hell is going on?,” she asked. “Why is the plague of physician and medical student suicide such a secret? Why am I the one piecing this together? I’m a solo family doc, yet somehow I’ve become an investigative reporter, a specialist in physician suicide. Why? Mostly because I can’t stop asking why. Why did both doctors I dated in med school die by suicide? Why did eight doctors kill themselves—just in my sweet little Oregon town?”

Looking back on my life I realize I could have been one of those doctors. After graduating from college I was accepted into medical school at U.C. San Francisco, one of the best medical schools in the country. But what I found when I began school was a world more akin to military boot camp, than a healing environment. When I decided to drop out of school and return my full-tuition scholarship, I was told I had to see a psychiatrist before I could leave. Clearly I was seen as “crazy” for wanting to leave a school most people were dying to get into.

But medical school is just a microcosm of our money-oriented, disconnected, and dysfunctional society. The taboo tells us not to talk about how destructive it all is and how many people are in despair. Another part of the taboo is that we don’t hear stories from people who “drop out,” whether it’s dropping out of medical school, dropping out as a doctor, or dropping out of civilization itself and committing to creating a society that works for all people.

One of the most radical acts we can engage is to tell the truth about our dysfunctional world and also to spread the word that there is a better way. My work with men’s health and gender healing goes back to a book I read in 1976, The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege by Herb Goldberg, Ph.D. “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power. He is out of touch with his emotions and his body. He is playing by the rules of the male Game Plan and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

But as Dylan reminds us, “the times they are a changing.” We can reverse our lemming-like march to destruction. To do that we need to break the taboo and begin talking about our collective despair as well as the hope for a radically different future. I look forward to your comments.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this into our awareness. I have always wondered how ER doctors and surgeons survive without developing PTSD or depression or both. The rigors of medical school and internship are also insane because of the hours that have to be put in compared to the amount of rest. The military has acknowledged that lack of sleep is a contributing factor in soldiers developing PTSD, so the same applies here.

    There is much that can be done to help prevent this situation if people would seek help, especially with a clinician skilled in applying Emotional Freedom Techniques to these situations. Of course, seeking help is also taboo in many situations because it is viewed as a sign of weakness. There is much to be changed in our society change this situation and others like you and I and Dr. Wible are helping make that happen

    • Tom,

      Thanks for the comments. We know something is wrong with how our society is working when the healers are breaking down under the pressures to such a degree that they are taking their own lives. As a healer, I understand the pain of trying to help others and seeing so many obstacles that get in the way of the doctor/client relationship.

      Hopefully, we’ll learn to recommit ourselves to a world that works for all. That’s what I do every day.

    • Gunther says:

      I would like to believe that the doctors and nursing staff also suffer from PTSD due to all that death and misery that they see in the ER and visiting their patients especially from all the shootings in America (both criminal and non-criminal shootings).