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Letters: Viewing a Suicide as an Environmental Protest

To the Editor:

Re “He Called Out Sick, Then Apologized for Dying” (news article, April 16), about a civil rights lawyer who set himself afire in a Brooklyn park:

As a psychiatrist I know that dark emotions may lie behind the face we show to others, and that any suicide is the result of complex forces, a mix of anger and despair. All that may be needed to light the fuse is the “right” catalyst. David Buckel’s suicide is likely no exception. What is unusual is the catalyst: Mr. Buckel said he wanted to die to call attention to climate change.

Climate change has been linked to suicide and suicidal ideation, which increase during and after extreme weather events and on days of poor air quality from burning fossil fuels. Suicides among farmers in drought-stricken areas have skyrocketed. As the impacts of global warming ratchet up, so will the emotional toll.

Suicide is a highly contagious act. This suicide was described as a political protest, and that makes it dangerously seductive for someone seeking a “noble” rationale.

The antidote to rage and despair, with climate change the catalyst, is not individual self-destructive protest, but collective engagement in political action.


To the Editor:

David Buckel’s death is tragic, and we mourn for his loved ones, friends and colleagues. But we object to your article’s unnecessarily graphic details and its implication that Mr. Buckel’s final note provides meaningful clues about what prompted him to take his life.

People do not die by suicide out of concerns over fossil fuels, or any other public policy issue. For years, suicide experts have cautioned about the dangers of attributing a death to widely experienced bad events. Suggesting that suicide is a normative, understandable response to such occurrences increases risk among vulnerable people whose own experiences may cause them to identify with the deceased.

Decades of research point to the role of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health factors in suicidal behavior.


Dr. Haas was a senior official at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Mr. Lane served on the executive committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.


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