Matthew D. Adler, age 40, died February 18, 2011, in Seattle by suicide. He had a beautiful family-- including two small children-- and many friends. Matt was a brilliant corporate attorney committed to his clients and to building relationships between the US and China. Matt’s profession was important to him. First as an associate, and then as a partner in an international law firm, he traveled frequently and worked long hours.
Triggered by the downturn in the economy and the potential implications for his law practice, Matt became depressed and an anxiety disorder deprived him of the ability to sleep or to concentrate.
Matt sought treatment for these problems from mental health professionals. After months of trying new medications-- none of which seemed to improve his condition-- Matt began to feel hopeless. He took a disability leave from work and then worried about his ability to re-enter his profession. He lost his sense of self-efficacy and suffered shame. Matt withdrew from his family and friends.
As his partner, I wish I understood Matt’s desperation and how to help him. Here I am talking more this regret on a Suicide Prevention Segment aired on February 12, 2012 on New Day Northwest by Margaret Larson.
The mental health professionals Matt was seeing were not prepared to manage or to treat his suicide risk. Knowing of Matt’s suicidal intent, they had obligation to act decisively, empathically, and collaboratively to ensure his safety.
As a professor in the UW School of Social Work, I reached out to several suicide prevention experts who informed me most health care professionals receive little or no training in how to assess, manage and treat suicidal individuals. This lapse is a public safety issue-- it contributed not only to Matt’s suicide—it is a factor in many other tragic deaths by suicide.
Under the leadership of Washington State Representative Tina Orwall, a statewide coalition of suicide prevention experts, individuals bereaved by suicide, and professionals from diverse disciplines worked to pass legislation requiring health care professionals to obtain training in suicide prevention. The "Matt Adler Suicide, Assessment, Treatment and Management Act of 2012" (ESHB 2366)--is the first of its kind in the nation. Here I am in an interview with the Seattle Times on February 25, 2012 being interviewed prior to the law’s passage.
Family, friends, Matt’s law firm-- DLA Piper LLP—and his most loyal client—AsiaInfo-- contributed generously to a Charitable Giving Fund in Matt’s name. With these funds, a public service announcement on suicide prevention was aired to over 4 million people across the country.
The remaining funds provided the capital to launch Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington.
Forefront tackles hard lessons learned from Matt’s death to save lives.
- Health professionals need more training in the assessment, management and treatment of clients who are suicidal. No other lesson is clearer from Matt’s story. Studies demonstrate an enormous gap between what professionals need to know and the training they currently receive in suicide prevention. Forefront provides training to health professionals and leadership in the dissemination of evidence-based training in suicide prevention in Washington State.
- The conversation about mental health and suicide needs to change. Matt had a serious medical condition yet, he felt ashamed to take time off to recuperate from it. The stigma of mental illness in our society is a major barrier to people seeking help in the first place and creates an enormous barrier to recovery for those seeking help. Matt is not unique in experiencing mental illness—1 in 4 of us are struggling with symptoms of mental disorders. Forefront engages with traditional news media and uses social media to change the public conversation about mental health and suicide to portray the reality of hope and recovery.
- Suicide prevention is a community responsibility. Most people who die by suicide talk about their pain and suicidal thoughts. Spouses, best friends, teachers, co-workers, etc. need to learn more about how to recognize the warning signs for suicide and about how to act to save a life. Matt’s family and friends wish they had this awareness. Forefront equips communities in a wide range of suicide prevention activities. Suicide impacts all of us.
- Bereavement from suicide is an especially difficult type of trauma to experience. Understanding why people die by suicide has been very helpful to resolving my grief. For example, I now know Matt did not want to die. Rather, he saw suicide as the only way to end his pain. The ability to help prevent this tragedy from happening to other people is also incredibly healing. Forefront educates and empowers people who have lost someone to suicide to help them understand why people die by suicide and to equip them with tools to advocate for change and to help others who are bereaved by suicide.
With Forefront there is hope.
Join us to bring hope and create Change.