Sunday, June 23, 2024

Dr. David Shaffer, an esteemed psychiatrist known for his extensive research on child and adolescent suicide, passed away on Sunday at the age of 87. He resided in Mastic Beach, N.Y., on Long Island at the estate of his former wife, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, during the later years of his life. Dr. Shaffer’s cause of death was respiratory complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.

In the 1970s, Dr. Shaffer conducted a groundbreaking investigation referred to as a “psychological autopsy.” He collected detailed information from adult caregivers of 31 children who died by suicide, challenging the prevailing perception that such acts were random and unpredictable. Surprisingly, he found that many of these suicides occurred during disciplinary crises, rather than being driven by depression. He also discovered clusters of suicides linked to contagion in a Welsh town, highlighting the importance of prevention efforts.

Throughout his career, Dr. Shaffer played a pivotal role in developing clinical tools and screening programs currently used in child psychiatry. His work helped identify clinical, neurological, and behavioral characteristics associated with suicide. He was known for his insatiable research appetite and his commitment to learning from families who had experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Dr. Shaffer’s passion for understanding human behavior and his dedication to preventing suicide made him an influential figure in the field. His work transformed the perception of suicide from a reasoned choice to a clinical concern, offering hope for prevention and intervention. Dr. Shaffer’s legacy will continue to impact the lives of countless children and adolescents who may be at risk.

Note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional support.

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