York, Pa.-born Edwin Shneidman, suicide prevention pioneer, dies in Los Angeles

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Edwin S. Shneidman, author of 20 books, wrote broadly about suicide prevention. The York, Pa., native died recently in Los Angeles. Background posts: All posts about celebrities with York links and All posts about others with York links.

Edwin Shneidman was one of America’s foremost experts on suicide.
But little is known about the local roots of this York, Pa.-born psychologist with a worldwide reputation… .


An Associated Press story told about his recent death at age 91.
The Los Angeles Times listed relatives who survive:

“In addition to his son David, of Seattle, he is survived by three other sons — Jon, of Fort Bragg, N.C.; Paul, of Gibbsboro, N.J.; and Robert, of Portland, Ore. — and six grandchildren. His wife of 56 years, Jeanne, died in 2001.”

The Times reported that he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees at U.C.L.A. and earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 1948 at the University of Southern California.
So perhaps he moved with his family from York when he was young. In that respect, he reminds on of another pioneer whose roots started in York, computer pioneer George Stibitz.
News reports told of Shneidman’s understated wit.
“Dying is the one thing — perhaps the only thing — in life that you don’t have to do,” he once wrote, according to the Times. “Stick around long enough and it will be done for you.”
Here are excerpts from the Associated Press story on his life and death:

Edwin S. Shneidman, a York native who was a prominent thinker on death and helped break American taboos on discussing suicide, has died at 91.
Shneidman, who had suffered from cancer, congestive heart failure and diabetes in recent years, died May 15 at his home in Los Angeles, his son, Robert, told the Los Angeles Times.
Edwin Shneidman helped found the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center in 1958 in an abandoned tuberculosis hospital.
Opening such a center was a radical idea at the time, but Shneidman, who had a doctorate in clinical psychology and authored 20 books on death, said suicide was the “one truly serious philosophical problem.”
Shneidman left the center in 1966 to head a national suicide prevention project that in three years increased the number of such centers in the country from 15 to more than 100.
He went on to found the American Association of Suicidology and the quarterly journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.
His study began in 1949 when he was working at a Los Angeles veterans’ hospital and had to write letters of condolence to the widows of two veterans who had killed themselves. He decided to research the cases, which led to a daylong trip to the morgue and a lifelong fascination with death.
After becoming a professor of thanatology (the academic study of death) at UCLA in 1970, and in 1973 wrote his best-known book “Deaths of Man.”

To see a list of several of Shneidman’s books in print, click here.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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