She also showed that grief and grief can trigger severe depression, but that even periods of grief lasting a year were not in themselves depressive episodes. And it showed that far from going through a neatly described five-step process, grief was personal and peculiar – a finding that has changed the way doctors and the public understand how people deal with loss.
Dr. Clayton resigned as chairman of Minnesota in 1999 and began teaching part-time at the University of New Mexico after moving to Santa Fe, NM.
But just six years later, a recruiter got in touch with her: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention needed a medical director who could bring the work of its research network to the public.
Dr. Clayton took the chance and left her part-time life in New Mexico for New York. She made films for schools and parents and has been a constant presence at government hearings, from Congress to city councils.
She was particularly vocal about suicide among Native Americans, servicemen and veterans, as rates skyrocketed following the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. She urged insurance companies to improve mental health protection. And even after she retired in 2015, she continued to write and speak, convinced that with adequate public education, the country could begin lowering its tragically high suicide rates.
“In front of her, people talked about suicide as if it were this mystical, horrific behavior,” said Dr. Friedman. “Your work destigmatized depression, and that’s why so many people owe their lives to you.”
If you have thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). For a list of additional resources, see SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.