“Suicidology” was the name given to the study of suicide and its prevention by Dr. Edwin Shneidman back in the 1960’s, and those of us who worked in that field were dubbed “suicidologists.” So I am a suicidologist who was trained at the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center by Drs. Edwin Shneidman, Norman Farberow and Robert Litman in 1966.
Below is one of the last versions of my professional biography, written in 2000:
Charlotte Ross has served as CEO of three nonprofit organizations during her 35-year career. She founded the San Mateo County Suicide Prevention & Crisis Center in 1966 and served as its executive director for 22 years. During that time the agency grew to include a Crisis Drop-In Center, Rape Crisis Service, and Family Stress Service.
As one of the pioneers of the suicide prevention movement, she was active in developing best practices and procedures for crisis centers. In the 1970’s, in response to what has now become known as a youth “suicide cluster,” she focused her activities on developing innovative programs responsive to the problem of adolescent suicide. These included suicide prevention programs for public schools, group counseling for high risk adolescents; and community-based programs for depressed and suicidal youth. She provided training, consultation, and CME programs for a number of local, national, and international health care and educational institutions.
In 1982 Ms. Ross was appointed Chairperson of the California Senate Select Committee on Children and Youth’s Task Force on Youth Suicide Prevention. In this role she was instrumental in framing the 1983 California legislation (S.B. 957) mandating the development of a statewide program on youth suicide prevention for public schools, the first suicide prevention legislation in the United States.
She served as technical advisor to the first television film on youth suicide, “Silence of the Heart” (CBS, 1984), which was inspired by experiences at the San Mateo County Crisis Center. She collaborated with CBS in the development of a major national public education program to accompany the airing of the film. This multi-faceted program led to a stark reduction in youth suicides following its presentation, which contrasted with prior research that advocated against media depiction of suicide. According to a report by D. Shaffer & M. Gould on teen suicides and television movies, “there were no youth suicides in the area we studied during the two weeks following its (Silence of the Heart) showing,” a reduction in rate to zero.
In 1985, at the invitation of (then) First Lady Nancy Reagan, Ms. Ross worked with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to develop a series of national initiatives for addressing the problem of youth suicide. She subsequently was appointed Executive Director of the Youth Suicide National Center in Washington, D.C., where she helped to establish a national task force within HHS, convened the first national conference on youth suicide, and developed model local and state legislation to address the problem. After almost four years of cross-country commuting, she retired in 1989 to return to California.
She was drawn out of retirement four years later to advocate for the rights of the terminally ill to be allowed to die with dignity. Having devoted more than 25 years to helping those who sought to end their lives prematurely, she also sought to help those whose final days held only extreme pain and distress. She supported Oregon’s 1993 successful Death with Dignity legislation and went on to found the Death with Dignity Education Center in 1994 (now the Death with Dignity National Center, based in Portland, OR). In 1996, the Death with Dignity Education Center joined with Compassion in Dying in bringing its appeal of the “right to die” issue to the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Ross served as CEO of the Death with Dignity Education Center until her third and final retirement in 2000.
She was a frequent lecturer and consultant for organizations and institutions, and is the author of a number of publications on suicide and its prevention. Her honors include the Daniel Koshland Award for Outstanding Service to Social Welfare in California; the Santa Clara County Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mental Health; the National Camp Fire On Behalf of Youth Award; San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame; California Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students Commendation and Lifetime Achievement Award; and the American Association of Suicidology Service Award.