Suicide Reporting

January 18th, 2011 at 8:09 am by David Farrar

Rebecca Todd in The Press reports:

Families of victims are angry their voices were not included in a ministerial review of media reporting on , a spokeswoman says. …

Maria Bradshaw, co-founder of family support group CASPER, said the committee’s review was missing the voices of the victims of suicide and families were “tired of Government inaction on the issue”. Families were restricted by the Coroners Act as they could not say publicly how their loved one died, for instance in funeral notices, until the coroner had made a ruling.

Bradshaw had a court order imposed to stop her discussing her son’s suicide publicly before the coroner had ruled on his death.

“That’s no way to treat a victim group. It just increases the isolation and stigma,” she said.

And is ineffective.

Newspaper Publishers’ Association chief executive Tim Pankhurst said the explosion in social networking made the Coroners Act largely irrelevant.

“If a teenager is killed, then hundreds of people are going to be Facebooking or tweeting about that within a couple of hours. Those kids aren’t reading newspapers or looking at news websites,” he said.

Exactly. Often it is the deceased’s own Facebook page where the news is broken, and people console.

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46 Responses to “Suicide Reporting”

  1. dad4justice (8,302 comments) says:

    “tired of Government inaction on the issue”.

    Just file it in the too hard basket eh Minister . But Minister, more people kill themselves in New Zealand and figures suggest the road toll is far less, however you hound the crap out of the motorist over Christmas and stay silent about the significant rise in suicide in the land of the long lie. What a sick country!

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  2. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    I think an important part of the article is “Families of suicide victims are angry their voices were not included in a ministerial review”

    If this is correct it doesn’t reflect well on the thoroughness of the review.

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  3. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    then hundreds of people are going to be Facebooking or tweeting about that within a couple of hours.

    This is a problem with no easy solution, it’s impossible to stop the rumour mill, by word of mouth or web. A major example was the Pike River mine tragedy.

    I’ve also had recent experience where a family member died suddenly. The implication from police, and the logical view from those who actualy knew the details, was that it was most likely an accidental death, misadventure. That didn’t stop the gossip and facebook postings saying and implying suicide. That’s very hard on the close family of the deceased.

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  4. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    My initial thoughts are that while I agree imposing court orders on families seems an unnecessary cruelty (particularly in light of the explosion in social networking popularity) I would tend to think that giving too much weight to the opinions of ‘suicide survivors’ (the term given to family members of those who have committed suicide) in a ministerial review is the wrong thing to do.

    Their views are understandably coloured by what they have experienced, and will often (again understandably) tend to be driven by emotion rather than reason and research.

    CASPER may have some valuable insights for the committee into how the ban on reporting affects them personally as survivors of suicide, but unfortunately they are not qualified to make judgements over whether or not the ban as a whole is a good thing.

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  5. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    they are not qualified to make judgements over whether or not the ban as a whole is a good thing.

    I think they are better qualified than most, better qualified than a dispassionate person who has never experienced it.

    I don’t see any reason why most family members can’t provide reasoned and sensible insights, it’s not as if they walk styraight from the morgue to the microphone. And – a bit of emotion is justified and has to be taken into account, it can be a very emotional subject.

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  6. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    Better qualified than most, certainly – but not more qualified than those who work in the fields of depression/mental health and researchers who have studied the effects of suicide reporting.

    As I said, survivors can certainly speak about the impact on them under the current system, and should. It all comes down to exactly what is meant by ‘including their voices’ – Perhaps I am assuming too much, but my understanding is that the group wanted to make recommendations.

    Please understand, I do not mean to be dismissive or unfeeling towards the group. I count myself among their number as one who lost an immediate family member to suicide and completely empathise. But being a survivor does not make me qualified to say whether the media ban is a good thing or not, it is an extremely complex issue. All I can say is that I am glad we are having this conversation – it’s one we need to have more frequently and deeply, suicide prevention is too often put in the too-hard basket.

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  7. Dave Mann (1,248 comments) says:

    “Often it is the deceased’s own Facebook page where the news is broken,”….

    While probably true, I have sometimes wondered how that works exactly. What happens? Does some schmuck decide to kill themself and conveniently leave their Facebook and/or Twitter login details written down so that the poor family can update all their ‘friends’? Wierd…. and a little ghoulish too….

    [DPF: On Facebook, others can write on their wall]

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  8. JC (967 comments) says:

    It didn’t ring right to me that family members would be so keen to talk about a youth suicide so soon after the death, so I went looking on the Net..

    http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/116-1175/461/

    This gives us an authoritative viewpoint on why youths suicide.. and our old friends of divorce, family discord, violence and child abuse, poor education, low socioeconomic status and unemployment pop up along with mental health etc.

    So yeah, there will be plenty of families wanting to “get in first” with their stories of how its all someone else’s fault. Thats the last thing we need before the Coroner has reported.

    JC

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  9. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    Dave – often Facebook and other social networking pages become tribute pages. Friends and loved ones who are told the news post messages to the deceased’s page, and others learn the news in this way.

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  10. Courage Wolf (557 comments) says:

    Better qualified than most, certainly – but not more qualified than those who work in the fields of depression/mental health and researchers who have studied the effects of suicide reporting.

    I agree with the above. Studies (can’t be bothered Googling them) have shown that increases in suicide reporting leads to more suicides, which is the main consideration for limits on it. This isn’t really something a family member would be taking into account when wanting to talk to the media about their close ones who have committed suicide.

    Then again though who knows what a few years of free market suicide reporting may do… It may result in the increase of suicide prevention programmes etc. To combat the increase in suicides, thus leading to a long-term good and overall decrease over time.

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  11. Dave Mann (1,248 comments) says:

    Oh thanks Vendetta…. I don’t use Facebook myself so I wondered how it works. Seems a little bit surreal… but hey thats the digital age for you!

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  12. big bruv (14,122 comments) says:

    How is the government supposed to stop people killing themselves?

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  13. KiwiGreg (3,259 comments) says:

    @ big bruv I *think* comitting suicide is against the law, so that’s how – governments can solve pretty mcuh any problem by passing laws. Or spending money.

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  14. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    bruv: How is the government supposed to stop people killing themselves?

    Assuming you’re not taking the piss: By doing things in the same vein as this ministerial review. Researching, talking to the experts, finding out what has worked in other countries. Enforcing or removing guidelines around media reporting of suicide. Finding out what kind of organisations and support networks provide the best support for the suicidal and depressed. Perhaps subsidising forms of counselling or psychotherapy IF they are found to be helpful to sufferers.

    Perhaps even look at deeper questions of why people might become depressed or suicidal and look at society as a whole and how aspects of our society may encourage depression. Shape our society into a ‘healthier’ one, if you will.

    No easy answers, obviously, but no excuse not to try.

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  15. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    Then again though who knows what a few years of free market suicide reporting may do…

    An interesting question – would increases in suicide rates due to more reporting be just a blip or a permanent increase?
    Would more openness eventually lead to better understanding and awareness, and more prevention?

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  16. MT_Tinman (3,249 comments) says:

    big bruv (7,818) Says:
    January 18th, 2011 at 9:26 am
    How is the government supposed to stop people killing themselves?

    Why would they want to?

    What a person does with his/her life is their own responsibility as long as their actions hurt no one else.

    Vendettsa, horsehit!

    Pure and utter horseshit!

    The Governments job is to build roads, hospitals etc., assist trade with other countries and stop, where possible, internal disputes turning violent.

    Nothing else.

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  17. AlphaKiwi (683 comments) says:

    I have been reading “Psychology: The Influence of Persuasion” and it was saying that in the States they don’t report on suicides in the media in general because researchers have found there is always a spike in suicides and accidents after a suicide is reported in the media. I think that’s why they don’t report it.

    I don’t know what the answer is. Of course they should be trying to fix the problem, but they have to be careful about how they go about it.

    Aren’t most people committing suicide slowly by eating shit, smoking, drinking too much, not exercising enough, etc.?

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  18. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    My personal (unscientific) view is that it’s not so much the reporting that is significant, but HOW it is reported.

    I have no doubt that certain styles of reporting that portray the circumstances of the suicide as heroic, saintly, or otherwise favourable especially in the eyes of the contemporaries of the deceased would make copycat suicides more likely.
    I am aware of a number of anecdotal cases that would appear to support this; but it’s an area that needs more research and better theory.

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  19. big bruv (14,122 comments) says:

    Vendetta

    No I am not taking the piss, the government can waste millions of dollars of our money researching the causes of suicide.

    The reality is that once somebody has made that decision there is little that anybody can do to change their mind.

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  20. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    MT_Tinman

    Whose responsibility is it to help the mentally ill then?

    I also find your insinuation that committing suicide ‘hurts no-one else’ incredibly offensive.

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  21. Courage Wolf (557 comments) says:

    The reality is that once somebody has made that decision there is little that anybody can do to change their mind.

    Which is why pre-emptive action to prevent them from coming to that decision (e.g. seeing a counselor, calling Lifeline, etc) helps, duh.

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  22. MT_Tinman (3,249 comments) says:

    vendetta (32) Says:
    January 18th, 2011 at 10:09 am
    MT_Tinman

    I also find your insinuation that committing suicide ‘hurts no-one else’ incredibly offensive.

    I’m pleased – and it wasn’t an “insinuation”.

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  23. big bruv (14,122 comments) says:

    Courage Wolf

    “Which is why pre-emptive action to prevent them from coming to that decision (e.g. seeing a counselor, calling Lifeline, etc) helps, duh.”

    Does it help those who are genuinely determined to kill themselves?

    Lifeline is great for those who want to talk, great for those who simply want attention, the same can be said for counselling but I doubt that it would stop those who are determined.

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  24. AlphaKiwi (683 comments) says:

    My mistake. The book I mentioned is called, “Influence: The psychology of persuasion.” The suicide news reporting section is on pages 144-151.

    To summarise: Whenever suicide is reported in a regional newspaper and on regional news, that region always sees a spike in suicides, car and plane fatalities. This is especially so, when it’s a front page story.

    The book itself is absolutely fascinating and besides covering suicide, it exposes all the tricks marketers and salespeople use on us consumers and how to combat them.

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  25. Viking2 (11,547 comments) says:

    Its brought on by a hoplessness in a person who see’s no future. I.e. the 20% of youth that are barred from employment by these socialist spenders and that’s without accounting for another 20-50% that are filling in their life at school, poly techs and universities. All round the world there is a surplus of educated people. Even in places like Tunisia and look what the result is. Canada has the problem, England, and so on. Remove controls on people and their employment, get Govt. out of everyones lives. Allow people to be free.

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  26. big bruv (14,122 comments) says:

    “I also find your insinuation that committing suicide ‘hurts no-one else’ incredibly offensive.”

    Ah yes…..the NZ disease, lets not talk about this any longer because somebody is offended.

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  27. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    Not what I meant Bruv, but perhaps a poor choice of words. Substitute ‘ignorant’ or ‘mis-informed’.

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  28. Pete George (23,677 comments) says:

    Does it help those who are genuinely determined to kill themselves?

    Feeling suicidal isn’t necessarily a permanent condition, it can fluctuate with mood, illness and circumstances. It’s possible to influence all of those. Even delaying tactics could work until the worst feelings of desperation or determination pass.

    My mother contemplated suiced when she was ill, she talked about it and decided against it. If she didn’t have someone to talk to, or had an easy opportunity at the right time, it could easily have been different.

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  29. MT_Tinman (3,249 comments) says:

    big bruv (7,821) Says:
    January 18th, 2011 at 10:27 am
    “I also find your insinuation that committing suicide ‘hurts no-one else’ incredibly offensive.”

    Ah yes…..the NZ disease, lets not talk about this any longer because somebody is offended.

    No it goes further than that BB.

    Nowdays one can not feel grief, be upset or even inconvenienced, you must be “hurt”.

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  30. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    I’m reaching here, but isn’t this an implied result of the model of society we live in? Our culture no longer has that exciting ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood, instead its a competitive job market and the need to make the right decisions in educatino etc or fall behind with all the emphasis on the individual to sort out their shit.

    From JC’s link:
    Unemployment A specific adverse life event that has frequently been linked to suicidal behaviours is unemployment. Claims that unemployment has been responsible for recent increases in youth suicide rates have been supported by both time-series and individual-level studies, which have found higher rates of suicidal behaviours amongst those experiencing unemployment. For example, New Zealand Census-linked data suggest that those experiencing unemployment had odds of subsequent suicide that were over 2.5 times higher than for those employed.27 Similar associations between suicidal behaviours and unemployment have been found in two further New Zealand studies.28,29 However, findings from these studies tend to suggest that much of the association between unemployment and suicidal behaviour may be due to confounding factors (for example, poor educational achievement, family disadvantage, early conduct disorder problems) that are associated with both unemployment and suicidal behaviours.

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  31. adze (2,129 comments) says:

    I would be wary of studies that suggest economic conditions being the bigger cause of suicide. Once again just my opinion, but I believe despair and hopelessness is the biggest single killer; which itself could be caused by grief, shame, illness (mental or physical), avoidance of punishment, social disconnection, as well as factors such as employment prospects.

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  32. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    adze, well undoubedtly it is the mental state of the individual that ultimately gives rise to suicide and all your points seem relevant but the question is what can we do about it, or what is different about NZ as compared to other countries?

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  33. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    There are complaints about costs, and complaints about how this isn’t the government’s job. I would say that almost anybody (there are exceptions of course, such as the terminally ill) who seriously contemplates suicide, and would seriously prefer death to living, is not well. Hence why it’s called mental ILLNESS. They are sick, and need treatment. We would never have such a discussion around whether cancer suffers should be denied chemotherapy.

    (The nature of this treatment is a story for another day, and something else which I hope science and/or psychotherapy research will improve in the near future).

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  34. david (2,561 comments) says:

    This stems from a Jim Anderton inspired policy that even when the Coroner has found that suicide is the cause of death, the news media are barred from reporting that finding. Yes, the method may be ashphyxiation or gunshot wound but when self-inflicted, the method should not mask the cause. It is bizarre and unbelievable that suicide is not discussed openly in a way that exposes the impact on society. It rivals the road toll and in some years exceeds it but in terms of policy, spend and commitment of resources there is no comparison. mad.

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  35. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    KiwiGreg Attempting suicide used to be illegal but hasn’t been for years.
    From a school’s perspective, publicity around a suicide can lead to some awful responses, even copycat suicides – a terrible thing for everyone.
    Teenagers can easily romanticise death and the sight of a young suicide, lying almost in state, surrounded by teddy bears, heartbreaking messages and sobbing friends (and hangers-one), and then the funeral with all its macabre glamour can easily turn susceptible young minds.
    The news blackout seems to have had an effect on the cluster suicides but I wonder if the secrecy now adds to the allure (along with all the ghost movies that suggest one day they might be able to come back).
    I think now we should be more open, say openly the cause of death was suicide, and even say how.

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  36. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    I don’t know if it has any effect on teenagers (do young people even read newspapers?) but I agree with no newspaper reporting — in my own life suicidal thoughts come up from time to time without any external influence but if there was more reporting I think they would come into my head more often (‘Well, I could always top myself like that guy in the paper…’)

    Mind you I suspect there’s probably a big difference between thinking about suicide in a way that’s almost trivial where you know yourself that its extremely unlikely you’ll carry it out, and thinking of it in a more serious way.

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  37. BeaB (2,142 comments) says:

    The youth suicides I know something about were to do with the loss of a boyfriend/girlfriend, fear of impending mental illness (eg voices in their head, onset of depression), fear of telling family they were gay, heavy drug use.
    Parents should always emphasise to their kids that nothing is ever so bad they can’t talk about it and deal with it.
    Dad ranting about queers for instance can put a kid in the dreadful stuation of thinking their parents will despise and shun them if they come out.

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  38. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    Yo nats – did you guys know that the youth suicide rate doubled under national during 1990-1996? Must have been all that welfare dependency that National brought in….

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  39. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    In fact if you look at the beginning of the right-wing revolution in NZ (1984), suicide was at 15 per 100,000 for 15-24-year-old males. By the time the right were through doing thier good work (1997) that figure was 40 per 100,000. (see page 4 at the following link).

    http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/0/…/suicideratesinnewzealand.doc

    Tell me youth suicide has nothing to do with the opportunities for our youth and their status in our society (i.e. either unemployed or working for less than their parents were in the 1980s (thanks labour market deregulation!), or subsisting in poverty on the student loan/allowance).

    Go on.

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  40. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    youth suicide has nothing to do with the opportunities for our youth and their status in our society (i.e. either unemployed or working for less than their parents were in the 1980s, or subsisting in poverty on the student loan/allowance).

    Where do you get this bullshit implying that someone digging holes in the road ought to subsidise some tosser “studying” nasal inhalation therapy or political studies. Is there some law that says students WHO CHOOSE to go to ‘varsity can’t work either while they are there or before they go? If some loser thinks they are hard done by because taxpayers don’t let them waft through tertiary education on a feather mattress then they really aren’t any great loss.

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  41. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    NZ’s high suicide rate is of course linked to financial ruin , unemployment , marriage breakup etc..It is also linked to our high rate of Bipolar disorder or manic depression. International research identifies this group of people as the most likely in any society to commit suicide but here in NZ they receice little assistance and certainly no targeted suicide prevention initiatives. Jim Anderton’s document of a few years ago does not even mention this condition so this shows how much knowledge is out there. Very , very little..and it goes without saying , talk is cheap.

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  42. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    Joana

    Sadly, many victims just can’t be helped. They often just cannot cope with pressures in life that most of us don’t even notice and they are left with a choice of a lifetime on drugs or a life they just can’t cope with. Some just opt for neither and leave the rest of us wondering why.

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  43. joana (1,983 comments) says:

    Davinci…A product called Empower Plus can give these people a normal life. It was developed in Canada about 15 / 20 years ago. Quite a few NZers take it..I think it costs them about 60 dollars a month. A Canadian lecturer at Canterbury U was recently doing research on it. It probably does help everyone but it has helped a lot of people..One of the earliest benficiaries of it wrote a book on her experiences. It is not promoted in NZ because the drug merchants hold so much sway..I just saw in todays paper there is an investigation into a mental health unit in the Hutt Valley , another person with Bipolar committing suicide and another family not getting any help.
    Psychophrenics have a national body. There is no such national body for people with bipolar disorder. The best most organized society , based in CHCH is about to have its funding cut by the CDHB.

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  44. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    davinci, your comments were simplistic in my view. I think nearly everybody can be helped — some come from a bad start which means they’re unlikely to ever receive (or sadly to seek) the time investment required but I believe there is hope for everybody. And there’s many people in between the extremes you describe above, its a spectrum really.

    What I have noticed is that there’s a fairly sizeable group of people that don’t really want to spend time thinking about depression and suicide, they just get on with it and despite perhaps a few vices, or bouts of general dissatisfaction are able to. Others because of some combination of their upbringing, life events, peer influence or inherited or learned helplessness (perhaps also some genetic component say related to bipolar, schizophrenia etc.) aren’t able to cope but can certainly be helped. The difficulty is that people in the first group may not have much answers for people in the second group beyond ‘getting over it’, ‘pulling up your bootstraps’, ‘exercise more’ etc.

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  45. thedavincimode (6,867 comments) says:

    jinpy

    I’ll concede my comments were very generalised but not simplistic. It obviously didn’t refer to kids who were effectively bullied into suicide or the host of other reasons people opt out. But the reality is that many people can’t “just get on with it”. The sad reality is that some people, for whatever reason, simply can’t cope with “life”, including the suffering of others. They get the treatment/counselling, the drugs, have everything to live for, but in the end it just seems easier for them to not live. It is shattering to talk to people in this situation and hard to comprehend how anyone could get to this point for no reason that would be apparant to any objective observer. If the jungle juice that Joana mentioned works then bring it on.

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  46. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    At the time of the Third Reich, people suffering from depression were steralised. Under the current regime they’re more or less just left to wallow in poverty until they die from intoxication of one form or another, or kill themeselves. Same result for the davinciloads among us.

    As to your claim about bipolar people having no use to our society. Bollocks.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_affected_by_bipolar_disorder

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