More Funding for the Will to Live: Robert Gebbia and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

by Eleanor Lane
File under: Fake Labor 10 May 2013 18:50 EDT

The operant mentality in our current culture is that of a hypochondriac, constantly diagnosing him or herself with a thousand different conditions. These diseases all require a specific plan of treatment, typically very expensive and involving powerful government and corporate interests.

Notice the paranoid concern infesting every sector of our lives: subsidized insurance companies, regulated medical professionals, and massive police forces are all necessary to execute our one commandment, that nothing bad ever happen. Of course, all of these endeavors are inevitably failures, at which point the hypochondriac starts searching for new sources of illness and the sociopath, in turn, is happy to sell him all sorts of self-serving cures.

A very clear and obvious example — decades after the American public started feeding on a routine diet of media-hyped murders, and decided now was the time to eliminate ALL CRIME from human life forever, we're left with basically unchanged rates of wrongdoing, yet skyrocketing rates of incarceration:

Clearly, in our obsessive quest to root out criminals (who seem to inhabit about half of all air time on American television), the cure's been worse than the original problem. God help us when the inevitable budget cuts in coming years demand the closing of prisons, and people who've been locked away on trumped up charges (drugs) and have nothing productive to contribute to a collapsing economy are let back out in public. Of course, then people really will have a problem, and calls for martial law, already popular in the comments on many crime stories, will abound, and the controllers that created the problem will be all to happy to oblige. 

But interestingly, even this crime problem is being overshadowed by a rise in suicide rates. Even as of 2009, suicide far outpaced homicide as a leading cause of death, and rates have only been rising.

If not so grim, this would almost be a funny absurdist reality for the way it tricks our obsessive hypochondriac mentality. If people feel like they've got nothing to lose, how are we going to motivate them to show up to work in the morning like normal? How in the world are we going to come together as a nation and ensure that people don't kill themselves? Play reruns of Bishop Fulton Sheen's "Live Is Worth Living"?

No, not quite. Instead, we're going to trot out a really sleazy-looking professional not-for-profit director on CNN Opinion and have him use the human misery around us as a selling point to shake down more funding for mental health services. Here he is, Robert Gebbia, executive director of the eerie-sounding American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, the man whose very appearance just fills one with warm life affirmations:

Just who is this man who can talk us all down from our societal ledge of desperation? Is he a visionary, a prophet who crafts sublime meaning from all the darkness? Nope, he's got the credentials of a salesman as well as the appearance. From the AFSP's website

Mr. Gebbia has an extensive background in not-for-profit management, fundraising, program development, and strategic planning. He holds a B.A. in Sociology from Hofstra University and M.A. in Sociology from the New School for Social Research. He completed the Harvard Business School’s Human Services Management Executive Program and IBM’s Leadership Commitment Program for not-for-profit executives. 

So let's be clear here — he's a businessman that has no special insight into how to help the suicidal, other than as a part of the generic not-for-profit program, which treats all complex human emotions as causes to be won through slick marketing.  The only comment concerning this organization on, a site that provides information about not-for-profits, would seem to confirm this:

Manipulation, deception and half-truths seem to be a way of life for this organization. I have my experience as a walk coordinator with them well-documented. After being told by the executive director that he wasn't interested in hearing what I had to say, I not only reported it to the IRS, but told the board what I saw, as well. The sad part is that they aren't denying what happened, they just think by ignoring it, no one will notice, and they don't feel what they are doing is wrong, either. When I quit, the regional director allowed and even encouraged the chapter chair to steal my email address and refused to make him return it to me. She even supported him when he lied to the police, and even told the police she didn't feel what he did was wrong. When I got my 1099, they didn't include all of the money I received, and don't have any intention on giving me a new one. Where is the integrity in the people who run this place? All they want is your money and they don't care who they have to step on, screw or otherwise manipulate to get it.

Just one account, but Mr. Gebbia's comments on the middle-aged suicide crisis on CNN don't seem to dissuade one of this opinion. It seems to be primarily written as a fundraising tool, trumpeting the need for new 'research':

The CDC report makes it clear that we must continue to fund scientific research exploring the causes of suicide.

It confirms the need to use evidence-based knowledge to expand our research and prevention efforts, in particular, to underserved populations. Suicide prevention programs have typically focused on youth, young adults and the elderly. Now we know we need to do more for those in middle age.

Well that covers about everybody, doesn't it! It sounds almost like a parody. We're all sick and only our voodoo god Non-Profit Research can figure out what ails us. It has nothing to do with the qualitative condition of contemporary life. Yet, he never mentions any actual results this research has ever produced, and with good reason. The entire mental health apparatus in Fakenation is a scam that creates far more problems than it solves, as in the case of all the drugged-up school shooters who DID receive treatment for their 'mental illnesses'. But the failure is just more reason for more funding, right? 

There is a cheaper way forth: set up a state of surveillance of everybody by everybody, wherein 'expressions of pessimism' and 'sleeping problems' should prompt increased scrutiny, and maybe even grounds for gun confiscation:

Are we educating health care professionals, teachers, social workers and family members to recognize the signs of serious depression, such as expressions of pessimism and hopelessness, a low mood that does not change, sleeping problems and withdrawal from typical activities?

We understand that suicide can be an impulsive act and that alcoholism, substance abuse and access to lethal means can increase its likelihood.

Are we doing enough to train physicians to recognize the signs of addiction? Are we training emergency room doctors to ask about access to firearms and drugs? Are we educating family members about how to provide safe and supportive environments for those with a mental illness?

Failing that, shovel more money in our direction! After all, Mr. Gebbia needs to keep funding his salary in excess of $200,000. You don't think he got those Harvard credentials to live like Mother Theresa, do you? Send in those checks. We promise, we're going to crack the code of all those mysterious 'diseases' that make people lose their minds!

A world in which mental illness can be addressed openly without embarrassment or fear of discrimination is not beyond reach.

If we pay for the research that can uncover the mysteries of the brain, strive to understand what helps prevent suicide in diverse populations and are committed to helping those at risk receive the treatment they need, we can prevent the losses -- one life at a time.

Quite amusingly, people who've self-identified themselves as the targets of this concern were having none of it in the popular comments:

So much for trying to force people to enjoy living with activist editorials. The entire premise is so absurd, and it shows a real reduction of mental health in the attempt to show concern for it. The choice to live or die is one so incredibly personal that 'suicide prevention' is a service that's never targeted at people who could actually use it — if they're serious, they aren't actually going to confide in somebody who may stop them, least of all a stranger from some obnoxious not-for-profit. The myopic focus on 'suicide', as if it were an isolated problem, shows a superficial cheapness of regard for those most in need of genuine attention. It says, "We don't really care about how you're feeling unless you decide to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable and guilty." 

Hopefully, this way of thinking is killing itself with such a forthrightly manipulative exposition of its exploitative motives. Let's get back to living, people. It is a poor doctor who revels in the number of his patients. 

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Anonymous says:03 Mar 2014 14:29 EST
Gebbia aside, your article is filled with holes. We need research because the brain is what moderates behavior and there are diseases of the brain, such as dementia, epilepsy and major depressive disorder, that research has found to have a biological base. Biological research on mental health was being done long before Gebbia or even the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention came around. We need suicide prevention because suicide is preventable. Kevorkian was all about death with dignity. He was first a medical doctor and dealt with patients who were terminal, not teenagers who are healthy. 9/10 individuals who die by suicide had a diagnosalbe mental disorder when they died. The majority of them go untreated. Check out the Golden Gate study. Survivors of the jump say that they nearly instantly regretted their decision. Do your research and you will find that it can be prevented if the warning signs can be identified, some of which are biologically rooted. I'd also suggest that you find real sources, not analysis from a basement blog site and user comments. Using Gebbia as a fall guy has nothing to do with mental health or the public health issue of suicide. Please don't sensationalize this stuff. There is already such a stigma attached to suicide and mental health and your article only says that it's not ok to reach out if you're struggling. That's what the goal of prevention is all about, not lining pockets. Would you say these things of the doctors that treat you in the hospital for your herpes? That they fund raise to find a cure for herpes so they can profit and leave you with no cure, only ointment? The brain is a part of the body and it controls impulse, affect, and motor function. Break your arm, go to the doctor; get depressed, go to the doctor. How do doctors treat disease? With evidence based practice from years of research funded by foundations just like the one you're bashing. If you're so into writing fiction, please clearly post it as such.
Dr. Kevorkian says:24 Nov 2013 4:36 EST
People need Suicide Assistance, not suicide prevention. Every pharmacy should sell suicide kits so people can kill themselves humanely rather than being forced to resort to violent and inhumane methods. Are we free people, or are we owned by the state? Get the fuckin government out of our lives.
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