Monday, March 30, 2009

Murder-suicide rarely equates to assisted suicide - suicide

An article that was published in the Minnesota Star Tribune on March 27, 2009 and written by Warren Wolfe looks at the sad phenomenon of murder-suicide. The article entitled: Desperate act from a weary caregiver looks at how older men will often falsely associate the act of murder-suicide with an act of mercy, but in reality it is rarely the case.


Donna Cohen, a researcher and expert in suicide recognizes that a pattern exists in the 500 murder-suicides that are now happening every year in the United States. Cohen stated in the article:
"Some older men try so hard to hold their heads high, to not ask for help with the stress of caregiving,'' said Donna Cohen, a researcher and expert on murder-suicide among older couples. "They cope as best they can with a depression they feel but can't acknowledge."
Although each murder-suicide among older people is different, researchers say there is a typical pattern:
• The man kills the woman in their bedroom with a gun -- an act he has thought about for weeks or months.

• The woman has Alzheimer's disease or another illness, and the man is depressed, often exhausted, perhaps sick himself, and under strain as the primary caregiver.

• The woman is rarely a willing or knowing participant. She usually is killed in her sleep.

• The man almost always mistakenly believes he is acting with mercy, putting the woman out of her misery. Instead, he is ending his own misery.

• There may be warning signs that can help families prevent the tragedy.
When people read reports of a murder-suicide they will often ask the question, was this an Act of love, or desperation? Cohen who has researched this question tries to find answers. She stated in the article:
That notion is common in murder-suicides, said Cohen, who has testified before Congress, written extensively and helped train families and physicians. She is a professor of aging and mental health at the University of South Florida and heads its Violence and Injury Prevention Program.

"If they were consulted, families usually would try to stop it,'' she said. "In fact, murder-suicide almost always is not an act of love. It's an act of desperation."
Cohen also recognizes that murder-suicide does not equate with assisted suicide. She said:
Some people equate murder-suicide with assisted suicide and the right to control when you will die, Cohen said. "It usually is not the same. This is suicide and murder.''
Cohan is developing answers to the problem of murder-suicide. The article states:
"Homicide-suicide is rare among older people,'' she added. "They've been through a lot and have developed ways to cope with a lot that life throws you."

But sometimes, she said, "the problems -- often real or perceived health problems -- seem insurmountable."

That can be especially true for older men who are caregivers, Cohen added. "Women are more likely to ask for help. Men try to focus on the tasks, to press on, to do all they can on their own -- and that can take a huge toll."

Recognizing that, the Alzheimer's Association in Minnesota, which sponsors 94 caregiver support groups, will add two more in May -- for older men. "We know that's a group that needs help, and we are trying to figure out how to reach out to them," said Jan Mueller, advocacy manager at the Edina office.

The association also supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, and Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, for an Alzheimer's work group to assess needs of people with dementia and their families.
Cohen has identified risk factors for murder-suicide and ways that families can help prevent these horrific incidences. The article states
Within weeks before a murder-suicide, the man often has seen a physician -- sometimes escorting his wife, Cohen said. "Health professionals should screen patients routinely for depression. Medications and other interventions do work."

Sometimes families can prevent a murder-suicide if they recognize signs such as a health change in a long-married couple, more social isolation, exhaustion or talk of a move to a nursing home -- especially in cases where the husband has a dominant personality.

"Get Dad talking," Cohen said. "This can be frightening for families, but they can address [it] directly. Acknowledge the good work he has been doing, and ask him if he sometimes wishes his spouse or he were dead. You won't be putting a new idea in his head. It's OK to tell him those ideas are normal. They are."

"The lesson is to be aware, take the signs seriously, start talking and try to get help," she said. "You still may fail, but you will never regret trying."
The lesson is that murder-suicide is a preventable social problem.
Secondly, legalizing assisted suicide or creating special exemptions in the law for "compassionate homicide" will not lesson the social problem of murder-suicide or make the circumstances less tragic.

Link to the original article:
http://www.startribune.com/local/south/41952717.html?elr=KArks7PYDiaK7DU2EkP7K_V_GD7Ea

Link to a previous commentary on murder-suicide:
http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2008/10/homicide-suicide-statistics-shows.html

Link to a previous sad case of murder-suicide:
http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2008/04/saltspring-b.html

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