Saturday, January 23, 2010

RIP Andrew Lange (?-2010)

Apparently, Caltech astronomy professor Andrew Lange committed suicide on Thursday. You can read about some of his research here.

Maybe it's small sample size, but the suicide frequency at Caltech seems to have increased nontrivially during the last couple of years.


Justin said...

I think so too. But I was talking about this Thursday with another alumni here (class of 89 I think), and he claimed that the Caltech suicide rate has always been about the same level at around 1/year. Apparently that's around twice the normal college suicide rate of 1/2000 students/year. I only remember one or two suicides when I was an undergrad though (nobody I knew).

Not relevant for Lange of course, everyone was shocked by this.

Mason said...

Last year, I think there were 2 from Page within a week of each other.

The thing that really scares me is that whenever I see something like this, I can't help having morbid thoughts wondering if this is me in 15 or 20 years. I have always had my share of depressive episodes. I feel like these people have things more together than I do, so it's very scary.

I was in a somewhat depressed mood already when I found out about this (just from my usual oscillations), and seeing this is just so frightening to me (and shocking, as you point out) that it seems to be mixing with the bummed mood somewhat.

Justin said...

I didn't think it appropriate to bring up, but I was a little concerned seeing your previous post and this one together... Though regarding "Riddle Me This", I think everyone tends to be in a bad mood on Friday evenings. The end of a week of work is the time one will be most tired, and often most stressed as well. Not being as much of a workaholic would probably help, but that ship may have sailed a long time ago. :-) No f-ing way you'll ever catch me working past midnight, or even past dinnertime!

If you worry that your depressive episodes might be or someday become a serious problem, you really should check out the counseling services Oxford offers. President Chameau's message announcing the Lange suicide strongly emphasized that, as you'd expect.

Mason said...

I wrote that one before I even found out about what happened. Those two together was essentially due exclusively to chronology. The whole thing bothered me at an extra level because of the mood I was in, but the Friday post was its own entity.

I'm not sure sure everyone is in a bad mood on Friday evenings. Isn't that a traditional day for people to hang out, etc?

I don't trust random people for personal discussions (no matter how well they're trained). I talk things over with friends.

I went over to a friend's place on Sunday to watch a movie and hang out a bit, though I didn't say why I wanted to be with someone else when I probably should just have gotten more work done.

Anyway, I've always been very moody and tend to seek friends out for comfort in my worse moments.

Zifnab said...

Just want to comment re: trusting random people for personal discussions. That's one viewpoint on it, but let me offer two thoughts/viewpoints on that as well. Let me note that these are not meant to be personal - I think that what you brought up deserves discussion and they're what I immediately thought of, based on my experience and continuing fight vs depression.

One is that you aren't trusting a random person when you talk with a counselor. They're trained to understand and listen, and have the experience with the issues you may be having. You don't have to trust them right off the bat. That's why one sees them over a month, or many months, etc. I certainly never trusted any counselor I saw while at Tech on the day I met them. But that didn't prevent me from talking about less important issues and gauging their advice and if I could work with them. Once that happened, trust was there and I was able to talk about the things that required trust.

Second is just this: if you tell a friend you're feeling suicidal, what can they do about it? What would you do if a friend told you that? Or if they just confessed to deep depression? It might have helped them to tell you, but now you have a whole mess of issues - do you need to tell someone in authority? Are you breaking the trust they had with you (to discuss) by trying to get them help? Or is that what they're asking you to do? I think my answer to that is that I view my friends can be a great support system (and can talk with them about anything), but placing all the burden on them rather than on someone who is trained to handle it, is unfair to them. (I note that many people probably don't need help, and their friends are the only support they may need to blow off steam. That's great! I just think that you have to consider the effects you may have when coping that way.)

Mason said...

On some fundamental level, I just don't want to have a personal discussion with someone who isn't a friend---no matter what their training is. I understand why the service exists and so on, but I am actually very deeply against my doing things this way. I feel violated when somebody who isn't a friend asks probing questions (regardless of whether or not candid answers are expected).

I take your second point and do agree with it. Whether my threshold for when I discuss such things with people is at a level that is "fair" is much harder for me to gauge, of course. And of course it's the closer friends I'll be more candid with, and I don't want to give them extra things to think about or worry about by virtue of my being candid.

Last Sunday, I went to a friend's house to watch a movie without saying that I really needed to be with someone that day. I did mention I wasn't really up for a heavy movie or anything, but I purposely didn't give any indication of what was bothering me. I did talk things over briefly with my closest local friend last night, and what I did beforehand was basically mention in an e-mail that it would help me to talk for a few minutes the next time we talked in person (and I very specifically clarified that there was no reason to worry about me but that talking would be helpful). So I believe that I was fair at least on this occasion. What I try to avoid doing are things like phone calls with expectations of people dropping what they're doing and talking immediately, and unless I am forgetting a whole lot of things, I can only think of a couple of times in my life when I did something like that (and that was because an immediate conversation was, in my mind, necessary).

On the (thankfully very few!) occasions when people have come to me with very serious comments such as you described, what I remember doing is talking to them (and probably mentioning that they could seek help---even though I myself don't follow that stuff---just so they might give some consideration to that, whether or not they decide to do it) but that I did not pursue taking any initiative to inform somebody appropriate about the cirumstances. In general, though, that's a judgement call that would be hard to make on that end. It would have to be very serious indeed for me to break someone's trust that way.

Zifnab said...

With respect to your first point, that's one possible style of counseling, but hardly the only one. I have never actually experienced that (and I have seen several different counselors) and there wasn't a situation where I was asked personal questions. I would read up on the different types of counseling - the type you mention is just one of many styles. The kind I find most useful tends to be where the counselor listens and helps me explore how and why I am feeling something.

One of my points about the second thought is that 'breaking someone's trust' is very hard to know what's meant when placed in that position. Do they mean for you to get them help? I've been in situations where their talking to me meant that they wanted and needed help, but were having trouble directly asking for it themselves. And other situations where it was a secret and I shouldn't tell anyone. It's hard to tell when placed in that situation, and it can cause psychological problems for those affected. I have a specific example in mind if you're interested, ask me via IM or email.

Mason said...

I might ask you about the example later. I think at the moment getting into such specific details won't help my mental state, which is definitely much better now than it was a few days ago. Remind me about that if I don't ask you for a while.