Dr. Robert E. Litman and the crafting of a name for a ground-breaking suicide prevention center
Before psychiatrist Dr. Robert E. Litman and two psychologists opened the nation’s first comprehensive center dedicated to helping suicidal people, they had to figure out what to name it.
In his 2006 book “November of the Soul,” George Howe Colt writes about how Litman and his co-founders — Edwin S. Shneidman and Norman L. Farberow — settled on “Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center”:
They agreed that the title should include the word suicide. “It was time for the taboo problem and its attendant stigma to be brought out into the open where it could be acknowledged and dealt with openly and constructively,” they wrote. “We were also aware that what we were planning to do was not prevention, it was intervention," recalls Litman. “But Suicide Intervention Center?” He shrugs. “Didn’t have a ring to it. Sounded lofty. So we decided to call it Suicide Prevention Center as a challenge rather than hide behind a less provocative title.” On September 1, 1958, the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center opened with one phone line and a staff of five.
Litman died Feb. 14 at 88, and Shneidman died last year at 91.
The 92-year-old Farberow still volunteers at the center, which is now part of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Los Angeles.
-- Valerie J. Nelson
Photo: Norman L. Farberow, left, with Robert E. Litman. Credit: Thomas Neerken