Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

Ever since her son disappeared almost 30 years ago, led someplace by his mental illness, Karen Bilyeu waited for him to call. She came up with theories: Maybe he witnessed a crime and was now hiding in a witness protection program. Maybe he was dead. His name was John Dean Dickens, and he was stocky and blue-eyed, with a baritone voice.

“One day, you want to think he’s alive,” the 72-year-old Cherryvale, Kansas, woman said. “The next day you don’t believe yourself.” But she remained hopeful and asked a retired police officer friend to try to find her boy.

Then, last month, Bilyeu found him.

The 54-year-old Dickens — known as J.D. — had died in May and been buried in a California grave, after the Orange County Sheriff coroner’s office mixed him up with another homeless man, Francis M. Kerrigan, who was alive. Local media covered the story, and it went viral.

At that moment, the lives of two families from California and Kansas became intertwined. They both loved an estranged, mentally ill, homeless family member, and tried to keep them close, but couldn’t. They both worried whether the men were cold or hungry or dead.

Bilyeu said she didn’t know her son was homeless until she learned of his death from the Orange County coroner’s office.

“At least he’s not suffering … not going hungry,” Bilyeu said.

Orange County officials are investigating how the mix-up happened. They plan to exhume Dickens’ body and cremate him at his family’s request.

J.D. was good at math, his younger sister, Diane Keaton, said. He would often help her with her homework, but they still bickered like siblings, she recalled, particularly when Dickens blasted Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.”

“That’s one reason he might have survived so long on his own: He had street smarts, he had the capability of thought,” said Keaton, 52, of Parsons, Kansas.

At 16, Dickens started to disappear and use drugs, his mother said. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

When he turned 18, he would leave home for months at a time but always popped back up, his family said.

“I always got frequent phone calls from him to let me know he was OK and to check on my well-being,” Bilyeu said.

J.D. began to settle down — albeit briefly — after a stint in the US Army in the 1980s, his family said.

In the late 1980s, he briefly stayed with Keaton, who was married, pregnant with her third child and living in Arkansas. But Keaton and her husband were struggling financially and their electricity was turned off, she said. They couldn’t afford to support their family and her brother.

So, J.D. left on good terms. He promised to let her know when he got settled.

“It wasn’t a big deal for him because he was used to getting up and going,” Keaton said.

J.D. made his way to Phoenix, and Bilyeu recalled having a cryptic conversation with him while he was there.

He said his car was stolen, and he knew who did it. But if he tried to recover the car, there would be trouble.

“We discussed it and we agreed, maybe the best thing was to leave it, get out the atlas and go down the road a little way,” Bilyeu said.

Again, he promised to call as soon as he got settled. That was the last time they talked.

“It’s heartbreaking, and it’s just over and over and over because you get your hopes up,” Bilyeu said. “Maybe he’ll call this birthday, and you hear nothing.”

“It’s the worst thing that could ever happen to a parent,” she said, “not knowing if (your child) is OK, if they’re hungry.”

‘My heart breaks for them’

About 15 years ago, Kerrigan was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, said his sister, Carole Meikel, 56, of Silverado, California. She said the challenges her family and Dickens’ family faced were identical. “My heart breaks for them,” she said.

Kerrigan’s life started to unravel a few years after the diagnosis, when their mother died about a decade ago. That’s when he became homeless, Meikel said.

Meikel said her family tried to get her brother, known as Frankie, into housing, but he wanted to stay on the streets. Mostly, she said, he was good about keeping in touch, but she still feared that something would happen to him.

Mistaken identity

In May, the Kerrigan family got a call from the Orange County coroner’s office with startling news: Frankie was dead, they said.

Officials told 82-year-old Francis J. Kerrigan that they had identified his son through his fingerprints, and that they didn’t need the elder Kerrigan to identify the body, members of the Kerrigan family said.

Speaking through his lawyer, the elder Kerrigan told CNN he believed his son was dead at that point — “no question about it.” But a Kerrigan family attorney said officials had actually identified the body found outside the cellular store in Fountain Valley using an old Department of Motor Vehicles identification.

An autopsy said that man died of an enlarged heart and fluid in his lungs, KABC reported.

The Kerrigans saw the body days before a funeral on May 12, and it was tough to recognize, the station reported.

But on May 23, Frankie called his father from the home of a family friend, who had served as a pallbearer at the funeral. He was alive. Days later, the family attorney notified the coroner’s office of the mistake.

The attorney has filed notices of claims, a prelude to a lawsuit, against Orange County on behalf of the elder Kerrigan and Meikel, seeking a little more than $2 million. The court papers allege the younger Kerrigan’s civil rights were violated and the family suffered emotional distress.

‘That’s J.D. — I know it’

On May 30, Orange County officials correctly identified the body using fingerprints. About a month later, Orange County officials reached J.D.’s stepsister in Illinois, who passed a message to Bilyeau, Keaton said.

An official later told Bilyeu of her son’s death in Fountain Valley, but not about the cause of death, Keaton said.

“What upsets me and Mom … is the media knew what he died from, the (Kerrigan) family knew what he died from and the attorneys knew,” she said. “She should have told us.” Keaton said Orange County officials also didn’t mention the mix-up to her mother.

Keaton, who had seen news reports about the burial mix-up, suspected her brother may have been the misidentified body. She also noticed that a form to consent to his cremation said he died in Fountain Valley and was homeless, like the man in the news reports.

Her brother’s physical description also matched the description of the unidentified man.

She called her mother around midnight with the news. “That’s J.D. — I know it,” she said.

A Kerrigan family attorney, who knew the identity of the misidentified body, later confirmed it was her brother, Keaton said.

Soon, Bilyeu will get her son’s ashes and she may spread them at a family plot. Or she may hold onto them, and she’ll leave instructions to bury the two urns together when she’s cremated.

“He and I have always been so close,” she said.

Lives of families intertwined in homeless men’s burial mix-up

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When someone commits suicide, their family and friends can be left with the heartbreaking and answerless question of what they could have done differently. Colin Walsh, data scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, hopes his work in predicting suicide risk will give people the opportunity to ask “what can I do?” while there’s still a chance to intervene.

Walsh and his colleagues have created machine-learning algorithms that predict, with unnerving accuracy, the likelihood that a patient will attempt suicide. In trials, results have been 80-90% accurate when predicting whether someone will attempt suicide within the next two years, and 92% accurate in predicting whether someone will attempt suicide within the next week.

The prediction is based on data that’s widely available from all hospital admissions, including age, gender, zip codes, medications, and prior diagnoses. Walsh and his team gathered data on 5,167 patients from Vanderbilt University Medical Center that had been admitted with signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation. They read each of these cases to identify the 3,250 instances of suicide attempts.

This set of more than 5,000 cases was used to train the machine to identify those at risk of attempted suicide compared to those who committed self-harm but showed no evidence of suicidal intent. The researchers also built algorithms to predict attempted suicide among a group 12,695 randomly selected patients with no documented history of suicide attempts. It proved even more accurate at making suicide risk predictions within this large general population of patients admitted to the hospital.

Walsh’s paper, published in Clinical Psychological Science in April, is just the first stage of the work. He’s now working to establish whether his algorithm is effective with a completely different data set from another hospital. And, once confidant that the model is sound, Walsh hopes to work with a larger team to establish a suitable method of intervening. He expects to have an intervention program in testing within the next two years. “I’d like to think it’ll be fairly quick, but fairly quick in health care tends to be in the order of months,” he adds.

Suicide is such an intensely personal act that it seems, from a human perspective, impossible to make such accurate predictions based on a crude set of data. Walsh says it’s natural for clinicians to ask how the predictions are made, but the algorithms are so complex that it’s impossible to pull out single risk factors. “It’s a combination of risk factors that gets us the answers,” he says.

That said, Walsh and his team were surprised to note that taking melatonin seemed to be a significant factor in calculating the risk. “I don’t think melatonin is causing people to have suicidal thinking. There’s no physiology that gets us there. But one thing that’s been really important to suicide risk is sleep disorders,” says Walsh. It’s possible that prescriptions for melatonin capture the risk of sleep disorders—though that’s currently a hypothesis that’s yet to be proved.

The research raises broader ethical questions about the role of computers in health care and how truly personal information could be used. “There’s always the risk of unintended consequences,” says Walsh. “We mean well and build a system to help people, but sometimes problems can result down the line.”

Researchers will also have to decide how much computer-based decisions will determine patient care. As a practicing primary care doctor, Walsh says it’s unnerving to recognize that he could effectively follow orders from a machine. “Is there a problem with the fact that I might get a prediction of high risk when that’s not part of my clinical picture?” he says. “Are you changing the way I have to deliver care because of something a computer’s telling me to do?”

For now, the machine-learning algorithms are based on data from hospital admissions. But Walsh recognizes that many people at risk of suicide do not spend time in hospital beforehand. “So much of our lives is spent outside of the health care setting. If we only rely on data that’s present in the health care setting to do this work, then we’re only going to get part of the way there,” he says.

And where else could researchers get data? The internet is one promising option. We spend so much time on Facebook and Twitter, says Walsh, that there may well be social media data that could be used to predict suicide risk. “But we need to do the work to show that’s actually true.”

Facebook announced earlier this year that it was using its own artificial intelligence to review posts for signs of self-harm. And the results are reportedly already more accurate than the reports Facebook gets from people flagged by their friends as at-risk.

Training machines to identify warning signs of suicide is far from straightforward. And, for predictions and interventions to be done successfully, Walsh believes it’s essential to destigmatize suicide. “We’re never going to help people if we’re not comfortable talking about it,” he says.

But, with suicide leading to 800,000 deaths worldwide every year, this is a public health issue that cannot be ignored. Given that most humans, including doctors, are pretty terrible at identifying suicide risk, machine learning could provide an important solution.

https://www.doximity.com/doc_news/v2/entries/8004313

A pair of new studies links childhood cat ownership and infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) with later onset schizophrenia and other mental illness. Researchers published their findings in the online Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

In the Schizophrenia Research study, investigators compared two previous studies that suggested childhood cat ownership could be a possible risk factor for schizophrenia or another serious mental illness with a third, even earlier survey on mental health to see if the finding could be replicated.

“The results were the same,” researchers reported, “suggesting that cat ownership in childhood is significantly more common in families in which the child later becomes seriously mentally ill.”

If accurate, the researchers expect the culprit to be infection with T. gondii, a parasite commonly carried by cats. At this point, though, they are urging others to conduct further studies to clarify the apparent link between cat ownership and schizophrenia.

The Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica study was a meta-analysis of 50 previously published studies to investigate the prevalence of t. gondii infection in people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders compared with healthy controls.

In cases of schizophrenia, researchers said evidence of an association with T. gondii was “overwhelming,” CBS News reported. Specifically, people infected with T. gondii were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as people never infected with the parasite, according to the report.

The meta-analysis also suggested associations between T. gondii infection and bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addiction. No association, however, was found for major depression.

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

1. Fuller Torrey E, Simmons W, Yolken RH. Is childhood cat ownership a risk factor for schizophrenia later in life? Schizophrenia Research. 2015 April 18. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Sutterland AL, Fond G, Kuin A, et al. Beyond the association. Toxoplasma gondii in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addiction: systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2015 April 15. [Epub ahead of print].

http://www.psychcongress.com/article/studies-link-cat-ownership-schizophrenia-other-mental-illness

by Bahar Golipour

What is the earliest memory you have?

Most people can’t remember anything that happened to them or around them in their toddlerhood. The phenomenon, called childhood amnesia, has long puzzled scientists. Some have debated that we forget because the young brain hasn’t fully developed the ability to store memories. Others argue it is because the fast-growing brain is rewiring itself so much that it overwrites what it’s already registered.

New research that appears in Nature Neuroscience this week suggests that those memories are not forgotten. The study shows that when juvenile rats have an experience during this infantile amnesia period, the memory of that experience is not lost. Instead, it is stored as a “latent memory trace” for a long time. If something later reminds them of the original experience, the memory trace reemerges as a full blown, long-lasting memory.

Taking a (rather huge) leap from rats to humans, this could explain how early life experiences that you don’t remember still shape your personality; how growing up in a rich environment makes you a smarter person and how early trauma puts you at higher risk for mental health problems later on.

Scientists don’t know whether we can access those memories. But the new study shows childhood amnesia coincides with a critical time for the brain ― specifically the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped brain structure crucial for memory and learning. Childhood amnesia corresponds to the time that your brain matures and new experiences fuel the growth of the hippocampus.

In humans, this period occurs before pre-school, likely between the ages 2 and 4. During this time, a child’s brain needs adequate stimulation (mostly from healthy social interactions) so it can better develop the ability to learn.

And not getting enough healthy mental activation during this period may impede the development of a brain’s learning and memory centers in a way that it cannot be compensated later.

“What our findings tell us is that children’s brains need to get enough and healthy activation even before they enter pre-school,” said study leader Cristina Alberini, a professor at New York University’s Center for Neural Science. “Without this, the neurological system runs the risk of not properly developing learning and memory functions.”

The findings may illustrate one mechanism that could in part explain scientific research that shows poverty can shrink children’s brains.

Extensive research spanning decades has shown that low socioeconomic status is linked to problems with cognitive abilities, higher risk for mental health issues and poorer performance in school. In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have found that the brain’s anatomy may look different in poor children. Poverty is also linked to smaller brain surface area and smaller volume of the white matter connecting brain areas, as well as smaller hippocampus. And a 2015 study found that the differences in brain development explain up to 20 percent of academic performance gap between children from high- and low-income families.

Critical Periods

For the brain, the first few years of life set the stage for the rest of life.

Even though the nervous system keeps some of its ability to rewire throughout life, several biochemical events that shape its core structure happen only at certain times. During these critical periods of the developmental stages, the brain is acutely sensitive to new sights, sounds, experiences and external stimulation.

Critical periods are best studied in the visual system. In the 1960s, scientists David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel showed that if they close one eye of a kitten from birth for just for a few months, its brain never learns to see properly. The neurons in the visual areas of the brain would lose their ability respond to the deprived eye. Adult cats treated the same way don’t show this effect, which demonstrates the importance of critical periods in brain development for proper functioning. This finding was part of the pioneering work that earned Hubel and Wiesel the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

In the new study in rats, the team shows that a similar critical period may be happening to the hippocampus.

Alberini and her colleagues took a close look at what exactly happens in the brain of rats in their first 17 days of life (equivalent to the first three years of a human’s life). They created a memory for the rodents of a negative experience: every time the animals entered a specific corner of their cage, they received a mildly painful shock to their foot. Young rats, like kids, aren’t great at remembering things that happened to them during their infantile amnesia. So although they avoided that corner right after the shock, they returned to it only a day later. In contrast, a group of older rats retained the memory and avoided this place for a long time.

However, the younger rats, had actually kept a trace of the memory. A reminder (such as another foot shock in another corner) was enough to resurrect the memory and make the animals avoid the first corner of the cage.

Researchers found a cascade of biochemical events in the young rats’ brains that are typically seen in developmental critical periods.

“We were excited to see the same type of mechanism in the hippocampus,” Alberini told The Huffington Post.

The Learning Brain And Its Mysteries

Just like the kittens’ brain needed light from the eyes to learn to see, the hippocampus may need novel experiences to learn to form memories.

“Early in life, while the brain cannot efficiently form long-term memories, it is ‘learning’ how to do so, making it possible to establish the abilities to memorize long-term,” Alberini said. “However, the brain needs stimulation through learning so that it can get in the practice of memory formation―without these experiences, the ability of the neurological system to learn will be impaired.”

This does not mean that you should put your kids in pre-pre-school, Alberini told HuffPost. Rather, it highlights the importance of healthy social interaction, especially with parents, and growing up in an environment rich in stimulation. Most kids in developed countries are already benefiting from this, she said.

But what does this all mean for children who grow up exposed to low levels of environmental stimulation, something more likely in poor families? Does it explain why poverty is linked to smaller brains? Alberini thinks many other factors likely contribute to the link between poverty and brain. But it is possible, she said, that low stimulation during the development of the hippocampus, too, plays a part.

Psychologist Seth Pollak of University of Wisconsin at Madison who has found children raised in poverty show differences in hippocampal development agrees.

Pollak believes the findings of the new study represent “an extremely plausible link between early childhood adversity and later problems.”

“We must always be cautious about generalizing studies of rodents to understanding human children,” Pollas added. “But the nonhuman animal studies, such as this one, provide testable hypotheses about specific mechanisms underlying human behavior.”

Although the link between poverty and cognitive performance has been repeatedly seen in numerous studies, scientists don’t have a good handle on how exactly many related factors unfold inside the developing brain, said Elizabeth Sowell, a researcher from the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Studies like this one provide “a lot of food for thought,” she added.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/07/24/the-things-you-dont-remember-shape-who-you-are/

by Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

Although there was a consistent reduction in US suicide rates from 1986 through 1999, the trend appears to have reversed during the most recent investigation period. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1) reveals that suicide rates increased by 24% from 1999 to 2014, with the greatest increase observed in the latter half of that period.

The increase occurred among males and females in all age groups from 10-74. While rates for males still exceed those for females, the gap began to narrow during the most recent period. Among females, the rate increase was almost triple that of males: 45% vs 16%.

While the highest suicide rate was observed among men aged 75 and older, there was a reduction of 8% in this group from the previous report. There was a 43% increase among males in the 45-64 age group, making it the group with the greatest rate increase and the second-highest suicide rate among males. The second highest increase (37%) occurred among males aged 10–14, although this group had the lowest rate among all of the age groups.

As with males, the suicide rate also decreased among females in the 75 and over group, by 11%. The steepest increase (200%) occurred among females aged 10-14, though the actual number of suicides in this age group was relatively small (150 in 2014). The females with the highest suicide rates comprised the 45-64 age group, which had the second greatest increase (63%) since the previous period. For females in the age groups of 15-24, 25-44, and 65-74, rate increases ranged from 31% to 53%.

The most common cause of suicide in females was poisoning, which accounted for 34.1% of cases, while the use of firearms accounted for more than half of male suicides (55.4%). Cases involving some form of suffocation–including hanging and strangulation–increased among both males and females.

Though the report does not provide possible explanations for these trends, other recent findings offer clues about a host of variables that could be influencing rates in the middle age brackets in particular, with especially strong support for economic issues as a potential influence. A study published in 2015 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, for example, found that economic and legal problems disproportionately affected adults aged 40-64 who had committed suicide (2). Research reported in 2014 showed a robust link between suicide rates and unemployment rates in adults in middle-aged adults but not other age groups, and according to a 2011 CDC study, suicide rates increased during periods of economic recession and declined during economic growth among people aged 25-64 years (3,4).

A co-author of the 2014 and 2015 studies, Julie A. Phillips, PhD, of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University, has received a grant from the American Foundation of Suicide to investigate the numerous variables that could be influencing the trend in middle-aged adults.

Additionally, a randomized controlled trial published in 2016 in PLoS Medicine found promising results with a brief, low-cost treatment designed to address the main risk factor for suicide: previous attempts (5).

An approach called the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP) was shown to reduce subsequent attempts by 80% among patients admitted to the emergency department after a suicide attempt.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and visit online at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

References

1. Curtin SC, Warner M, Hedegaard H. Increase in suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. NCHS data brief, no 241. 2016; Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

2. Hempstead KA, Phillips JA. Rising suicide among adults aged 40-64 years: the role of job and financial circumstances. Am J Prev Med. 2015; 48(5):491-500.

3. Phillips JA, Nugent CN. Suicide and the Great Recession of 2007-2009: the role of economic factors in the 50 U.S. states. Social Science & Medicine. 2014; 116:22-31.

4. Luo F, Florence CS, Quispe-Agnoli M, et al. Impact of business cycles on US suicide rates, 1928-2007. Am J Public Health. 2011; 101(6):1139-46.

5. Gysin-Maillart A, Schwab S, Soravia L, Megert M, Michel K. A novel brief therapy for patients who attempt suicide: A 24-months follow-up randomized controlled study of the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP). PLoS Medicine. 2016; 13(3): e1001968.

http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/suicide-and-self-harm/increase-in-suicide-rates-in-united-states-cdc/article/492762/?DCMP=EMC-PA_Update_RD&cpn=psych_md,psych_all&hmSubId=&hmEmail=5JIkN8Id_eWz7RlW__D9F5p_RUD7HzdI0&NID=1710903786&dl=0&spMailingID=14943637&spUserID=MTQ4MTYyNjcyNzk2S0&spJobID=820858811&spReportId=ODIwODU4ODExS0


Relatively small increases in air pollution were associated with a significant increase in treated psychiatric problems, the research showed.

by Damian Carrington

A major new study has linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children, even at low levels of pollution.

The new research found that relatively small increases in air pollution were associated with a significant increase in treated psychiatric problems. It is the first study to establish the link but is consistent with a growing body of evidence that air pollution can affect mental and cognitive health and that children are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open, examined the pollution exposure of more than 500,000 under-18s in Sweden and compared this with records of medicines prescribed for mental illnesses, ranging from sedatives to anti-psychotics.

“The results can mean that a lower concentration of air pollution, first and foremost from traffic, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” said Anna Oudin, at Umeå University, who led the study. “I would be worried myself if I lived in an area with high air pollution.”

Prof Frank Kelly, at King’s College London, said the research was important. “This builds on existing evidence that children are particularly sensitive to poor air quality probably because their lifestyles increase the dose of air pollution they are exposed too – ie they are more active – and that developing organs may be more vulnerable until they fully mature.”

Air pollution in the UK is above legal limits in many cities and estimated to cause 40,000 early deaths a year, though this only includes illnesses such as lung disease, heart attacks and strokes.

The EU and WHO limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is 40mcg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre), but levels can reach many times that in polluted cities like London. The researchers found that a 10mcg/m3 increase in NO2 corresponded to a 9% increase in mental illness in the children. For the same increase in tiny particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), the increase was 4%.

One striking aspect of the new research is that Sweden has low levels of air pollution, but the researchers still saw the link even below levels of 15mcg/m3. “Sweden is not a country that suffers from very bad air quality, said Kelly. “This suggests that other countries and cities have an even bigger challenge, as they will have to make significant improvements to their air quality so that it is even cleaner than Sweden’s.”

It is not possible to say from this study what would happen to rates of mental illness at higher levels of air pollution, but Oudin said they could rise: “In all the air pollution studies I have been involved in, the effects seem to be linear.”

This type of research cannot prove a causal link between the air pollution and increases in mental illness, but there is a plausible mechanism. “We know air pollution can get into bodies and brains and cause inflammation,” said Oudin. Animal studies indicate that inflammation is associated with a range of psychiatric disorders.

There have also been several earlier studies that found associations between air pollution and autism spectrum disorders and learning and development in children. “This study adds to evidence that air pollution may have detrimental effects on the brains of children and adolescents,” the Swedish researchers said.

In May, the Guardian revealed an unpublished air pollution report that demonstrated that 433 schools in London are located in areas that exceed EU limits for NO2 pollution and that four-fifths of those are in deprived areas. In May, a WHO report concluded that air pollution was rising at an “alarming rate” in the world’s cities, while a report in September found 3 million people a year suffer early deaths around the world from air pollution.

The new Swedish paper concludes: “The severe impact of child and adolescent mental health problems on society, together with the plausible and preventable association of exposure to air pollution, deserves special attention.”

by Erin Zaleski

A young French woman broadcast her last moments in a haunting livestream video.

More than 1,000 people are believed to have watched the young woman kill herself.

They watched her calmly discuss her decision to die, just as they watched her slip on her sneakers before heading to a nearby station and throwing herself in front of an oncoming suburban RER C train.

No one watching was able to approach the platform, or yell for her to stop, or to do anything else that may have prevented her from carrying out her desperate act, because no one could. The hundreds of people who witnessed her last moments watched the drama unfold behind their phone screens.

At the Egly train station south of Paris on Tuesday, a French teenager broadcast her suicide on Periscope, a smartphone app that allows users to stream live videos. The video has reportedly been removed from Periscope, but footage of the minutes leading up to her death has been posted on YouTube.

While suicide, and even public suicide, is nothing new, the age of social media makes such acts of despair accessible in a way they have never been previously. Indeed, Tuesday’s tragedy near Paris is not the first time a young person has broadcast a suicide on social media. In 2010, a 21-year-old Swedish man hanged himself on a live webcam broadcast. And a young woman in Shanghai documented the events leading up to her suicide on Instagram in 2014, uploading a series of disturbing images, including one in which her legs are dangling out of the window of a high-rise apartment.

“I will haunt you day and night after I’m dead,” she reportedly posted on the photo-sharing app in a message to her ex-boyfriend before jumping to her death.

In its guidelines, Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, prohibits what it deems “explicitly graphic content or media that is intended to incite violent, illegal or dangerous activities.” However, with some 10 million active users, monitoring every account 24/7 would be daunting, if not impossible.

“Why do you say you love me, you don’t even know me?” asks the pretty young woman seated on a red couch in her apartment and facing the camera. She is pale with long brown hair and piercings, one in her left nostril and two just beneath her lower lip. A prospective suitor has messaged her, but she calmly and firmly rebuffs his advances.

“Yes, I am single, but I am not looking for that. Really.”

She rolls a cigarette before continuing.

“What is about to happen is very shocking, so those who are underage should leave.”

She takes a long drag and continues to field questions from users. She tells them that she is 19 and works at a retirement home. Her determined, unemotional demeanor is a bit unsettling to watch. As is the way she calmly answers questions, sometimes even cracking a smile or unleashing a soft giggle.

“Why are you asking me who I am?” she asks with a chuckle before taking another drag. “I am no one.”

At one point she stops speaking and continues to smoke while scrolling through messages other Periscope users are sending her—mostly lame pick-up lines and other typical online inanities. Footage of her final act has been replaced with a black screen, but the faint voices of emergency personnel can be heard on the audio track, and messages from fellow users shift from playful banter to disbelief to concern.

“Stop messing around,” one of them reads.

“Where did she go? Call the cops!” reads another.

Indeed, it was a fellow Periscope user who alerted emergency services, but by the time they arrived at the station yesterday afternoon it was too late. French police have reportedly launched an investigation into her death.

Before she died, the young French woman reportedly claimed to be a victim of a sexual assault and named her alleged attacker. Whether it was the trauma of rape or another reason that drove her to violently end her life is not known. More unnerving is her decision to broadcast her death to hundreds of strangers. It’s not clear whether it’s a cry for help, since in the video she refuses to divulge any personal details, including her name and location. Had she wanted to feel less alone? Was she seeking empathy? Or in today’s digital world, where we joke that an event never really happened unless it’s posted, tweeted, or streamed, was she merely seeking to document, and thus, validate, the last moments of her life?

“What I want to make clear is that I am not doing this for the hype, but to send a message, to open minds,” she explains in the video.

The precise nature of the message she was hoping to send may never be understood. Instead, we are left a troubling glimpse of a young woman in pain, whom no one could help in time.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/11/french-teen-periscopes-her-suicide.html