Patients who are at risk need to be assessed, monitored, and seen often. Their grief needs to be acknowledged, whether or not the object of grief was known to them.
PORTRAIT OF A PSYCHIATRIST
– Series Editor, H. Steven Moffic, MD
Dr Seeman is Professor Emerita, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Medical Science, Toronto, Canada. She reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
On August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead of an overdose of barbiturates. I was a second-year psychiatry resident in New York City at the time, and I remember exactly where I was when I heard of her death. The sad news shook the staff and dazed the patients in our all women’s hospital ward. The ripple effect of Marilyn Monroe’s death can still be felt today simply by counting the number of books and films dedicated to the stories of Marilyn’s deprived childhood, her astonishing Hollywood career, and the fame and glamour of the men in her orbit, not to mention the psychiatric theories about her mental illness and the many conspiracy theories that continue to surround her death.
The female patients for whom I was responsible were particularly devastated by the news of her death because they identified with her in so many ways. Many had experienced similar childhoods in foster care, had aspired to be film stars, and had suffered through difficult relationships.
As it was summer when this happened, the head of our ward was on vacation in Europe. This left me temporarily in psychiatric charge.
Once I realized how deeply Marilyn Monroe’s death had affected my patients, I knew that some form of intervention was urgently needed. I immediately invited patients to join a support group that I would lead. I had led groups before—these were fairly routine on our ward. I knew how to be emotionally supportive and how to listen. I was confident that I was good at bringing people out. I had all the brash self-assurance of the very naïve.
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