A former congressman commanded rapt attention Thursday at a Capitol Hill hearing on suicide prevention as he recounted his own family’s tragic experience.
Former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida spoke publicly for the first about his 29-year-old son and namesake, Lincoln Gabriel Diaz-Balart, who took his own life more than a year ago.
“I must admit, I believed that all you need is love,” he said. “I never thought our tragedy of May 19, 2013, was possible. But it was possible. Sometimes, love is not enough.”
The hearing came in the wake of the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams and was in part prompted by the way his death was debated and discussed in social media. He was labeled by some as “selfish” and a “coward.”
“Denigrating the man who died or glorifying suicide as an escape sends the entirely wrong message, criminalizing the loss and the pain felt by both the deceased and his or her family,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who oversaw the hearing as chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
The hearing looked at policy changes to combat mental illness, as well as how to develop a dialogue about how the media covers the issue.
A psychologist, Murphy called suicide “an American public health crisis that results in more lost lives than motor vehicle crashes, homicide, or drug use.”
He ticked off its toll: the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24; the second for adults 25-34; and each day; 22 veterans take their own life.
Referring to Williams, Murphy criticized the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for tweeting a picture of the genie from the film, “Aladdin,” one of the actor’s more prominent roles, with the caption, “Genie, you’re free.”
Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told lawmakers that Hollywood meant well, but was perpetuating suicide as an idealized solution. She said universal education about suicide, especially encouraging seeking help as a responsible course of action, is crucial to helping end the stigma surrounding it.
Joel A. Dvoskin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, testified that television advertising has been completely neglected as an opportunity to fight the stigma. He noted how powerful a force it can be to convince consumers to use deodorant.
“We’ve never tried to use it to change behavior of a much more important thing,” he said.
Last year, Murphy introduced a bill to attempt to improve the resources available to those with a mental illness, and their families.
Diaz-Balart, who encouraged lawmakers to work together to address suicide, said his son, Daniel Diaz-Balart, convinced him to speak publicly about the death of his brother, who he called “LG.”
“Of course LG would want you to be there,” Diaz-Balart recounted Daniel saying about the hearing. “If one person who might not otherwise get help is able to get treatment because of that hearing and its aftermath, LG would be happy.”