One crazy day at work I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. I let it go to voicemail as I figured it was some bill collector. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did this person leave me a message for me to call him back but he said that it was urgent to do so. This man was Dr. Edwin Shneidman, the father of suicidology. He was a man I deeply respected because of his work in trying to understand psychache and suicide. He was the first pioneer to create a suicide prevention center in the United States. He has spent his life trying to develop a scale for psychache and psychological pain assessment. Psychache is the unbearable psychological pain (despair, grief, guilt, hopelessness, frustration, perturbation, and pain all rolled into one). It is this pain that he and I believe causes people to think about taking their life. I sent him my paper “Is suicide caused by psychological pain?” and he wanted to talk to me about the pain scales I had mentioned. He was fascinated that there was a scale to measure physical pain but (as I argued) not for psychache. He was always thinking about how to have a psychometric assessment to gauge a person’s psychache.
Dr. Shneidman began his career by interpreting suicide notes. He began collecting them after he was sent to the morgue for confirmation of suicide autopsy. He and his colleague Farberow lead the early work of this important tool in forensic suicidology. In addition to this, he also co-founded the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, the first in the United States to have one.
His message to me was for me to return his call and quickly (he wasn’t in the best of health). I didn’t know what to say to him or what he wanted of me. I was extremely nervous. Looking back I don’t remember too much of what we talked about. I know that we were on the phone what seemed like a half hour or so. I was too stunned to really remember anything but I know that he talked about his ill health and that he wanted to know what the physical pain scale was so I printed some off for him and sent them post haste to his house in LA. He died about a month afterwards.
After our conversation, my therapist was convinced I was going to be the next Shneidman. I would continue to follow in his work and in a way I have in my own way. I have book or downloaded/printed every article he ever wrote on the subject. I have scores of files on him. I also have the same on David Jobes but that is another matter.