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My name is Elyn Saks and I am both a mental health law professor and a consumer with schizophrenia. Although I have had schizophrenia since 1977 — over 40 years — I have been blessed that I was suicidal only once, namely the first time I was ill, during my first year at Oxford University. I knew that if I attempted I would succeed, and I also knew how devastated my family would have been if I did this, so I voluntarily sought care at the Warneford Psychiatric Hospital.

I also know suicide from the side of those left behind. My dear uncle, who had struggled for decades with depression with little relief, took his life at 47. (At the time I thought that was old, but not anymore.) And one of my closest friends, a law professor in the south with bipolar disorder, recently used a gun to end his life. Jim and I spoke on the phone almost every day, and his loss was profound.

Indeed, people left behind are often devastated and sometimes feel guilty, even though the act was not—is really never—their fault. For example, about a month before he took his life, Jim asked me if I ever felt a burden to my husband. I said, honestly, no. I didn’t get at that moment that Jim was probably feeling a burden to his wife and kids. Of course, people thinking straight would recognize that suicide is a much bigger burden on one’s family than the illness itself.

Jim’s wife, Kathi, also made an important point: just as people with cancer sometimes die of cancer, and people with heart disease sometimes die of heart disease, people with mental illness sometimes die of their mental illness, often through suicide.

Didi Hirsch does wonderful and amazing work in suicide prevention. They are the nation’s first and a leader in training, research, crisis care, and counseling. They have trained many people, including first responders like law enforcement. And they develop and evaluate support groups for people who have attempted or lost someone to suicide. Indeed, these are just a few of the wonderful programs that Didi Hirsch has. Very few, if any, places provide such extensive services.




On behalf of myself and others who suffer with mental illness, thank you, Didi Hirsch, especially your leadership, and clinicians, for all you do.