Three and half weeks after he quit using steroids “cold turkey” my son took his own life – a victim of the deep depression that accompanies withdrawal from these drugs.
This type of emotional testimony really has a strong effect on me as I’m sure it does on many others. Unfortunately, such emotional testimony is useless when it comes to scientifically, logically and rationally informed public policy.
Despite the testimony of grieving parents and so-called experts, it is not possible to show that anabolics steroids cause suicide. The role of anabolic steroids in depression and suicide is unclear. Professor of the University of South Florida explains why it is important for scientific experts and researchers to remain objective when evaluating such emotional testimony.
Suicide is a devastating and tragic event and the more that is known about the individual characteristics that signal increased risk for suicide, especially in adolescents, the better equipped we will be to intervene in time to save innocent lives like those mentioned herein. Suicide is an event where false-positive identification carries with it little harm at the personal level (certainly much less than the act, especially if handled correctly to avoid any stigma), but great benefit in some cases. Efforts to educate adolescents, families, physicians and others to the warning signs, be they drug use or other risky behaviors or psychopathologies, should be applauded. Efforts to ascribe such events to a single cause can distract attention from other important indicators that need to be noted. Ascribing blame can be comforting at times of devastation when one desperately needs to make sense of events and “do something”. But, from a scientific perspective, such efforts must be looked at skeptically and dispassionately. In this scientists must strive to remain ethically neutral and objective. They must attempt to ensure that they communicate clearly, not adjusting their message for a public seeking confirming statements and value judgments. Science has limitations, as do its research methods. Scientists do their best service when they remember this when reporting on their work to the public.
Our country and the health of our adolescent who face steroid use would be best served if Congressional policymakers would also remain ethically neutral and objective.