A psychologist, in school, Farberow studied a taboo topic: suicide. In the early 1950s the City of Los Angeles made him a deputy coroner with an interesting mission: to go through death reports to study suicide and, especially, suicide notes, to try to come up with a way to reduce their numbers. Despite the strong taboo in the 1950s, he not only pressed ahead, he became so sure that he could make a difference and reduce suicide that in 1958 he co-founded the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center — the first such center in the country — with Edwin Shneidman (Honorary Unsubscribe, Volume 4) and Robert Litman.
By 1963 it had a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline. “It’s always impressive to me how far you can go in providing simple companionship to prevent a suicide, even if a person is just simply available to a telephone call,” Farberow said last year. He taught crisis counselors to be non-judgmental and simply ask, “How may I help you?” His case studies found that suicide tended to be a reaction, not really a decision. The question was, what were they reacting to, and could they interrupt that reaction? “Suicidal people are made, not born,” he said. “We can therefore unmake them as we learn more about the roots of self-destructive behavior.” In 1965, he created crisis intervention training for police officers, since they tended to be the first on-scene in response to suicidal people. By making suicide less taboo, it became possible to help people who were suffering. Dr. Farberow died September 10 — World Suicide Prevention Day — after a fall in his home. He was 97.