Harold "Doc" South was interviewed by William Schneider and Karen Brewster on December 8, 2010 at his home in Palmer, Alaska. In this interview, Doc talks about his many years of working as a psychiatrist in Alaska, beginning in 1971 at the state's mental health center in Fairbanks and then at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) in Anchorage until his retirement in 1986. He describes API, bringing patients in from villages, and the facility's quality of care. He also mentions changes in the practice of psychiatry, involvement in court cases, development of community mental health centers, and the high rate of suicide in rural Alaska.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Alaska Mental Health Trust History
Date of Interview: Dec 8, 2010
Narrator(s): Harold "Doc" South
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: Going to college at Indiana University
Section 2: Becoming a psychiatrist
Section 3: Residency at Ohio State University Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, Ohio
Section 4: First job at Richmond State Hospital in Richmond, Indiana
] Section 5: Coming to Fairbanks, Alaska to work
Section 6: Working at the Mental Health Clinic in Fairbanks
Section 7: Establishing himself in Fairbanks and at API
] Section 8: High suicide rates in Alaska and suicide prevention
Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.
After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
Section 1: BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is December 8th, 2010. I'm Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster's here, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Harold "Doc" South, and we're here in his home in Palmer. And thanks for taking the time to -- to talk with us.
So let's go back to a little bit to your background. How did you get interested in psychiatry? And that's really what we're interested in today is looking at the delivery of -- of services here to folks that need it.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. Well, when I went to college, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do. I just -- I only knew about three things you could learn to do in college, that was to become a teacher, a lawyer, or a doctor, and at the time, I didn't think I wanted to be any of those things, so I think my first year, I listed myself as a government major and took some courses because -- because I decided that maybe I could be a lawyer.
And -- but in about the second year, I took a course in psychology just to meet a requirement, and psychology is -- was -- would meet a science requirement. So I thought, well, that would be easy. Well, it was kind of easy and fun, what I learned about it, so I became enamored to psychology and changed my major.
So I went -- I took all the psychology courses that the psychology department had, and it was really a big, booming department at that time. B. F. Skinner had just left there and gone to Harvard, I think.
KAREN BREWSTER: Where were you in college?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Indiana University. I forgot to say that. You know, some things you think go without saying, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: -- other people don't know that. Yes.
I went to Indiana University, which is in Bloomington, Indiana. And the only reason and the only way I could have gone to college was that there was a college in -- in the town where I lived, so I could live at home with my parents and go to the college. And so I started doing that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you got interested in psychology?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Very much so. And after I took all the undergraduate courses, they let me take graduate courses, so I took -- I took a whole lot more psychology courses than I needed to, to meet any requirement, because I just found them interesting and easy, and so by the time I was a junior, I had taken so many courses and done so well that they gave me an assistantship in the department.
In fact, in a way, I kind of followed Skinner's footsteps because Skinner had introduced, more or less invented or developed the Skinner Box, you know, the rat, you give a rat the stimulus; I mean, he pushes the lever and gets the pellet, and you condition him.
And some things we inherited after Skinner left. One was a pigeon, which had been trained progressively until he would actually press the button a thousand times for one pellet of food, or one grain of corn. He just went like a machine gun.
You know, demonstrate that to classes, just put that pigeon in there and he would go (fluttering sound) until the counter would register a thousand and then he would get a pellet. So then everybody -- not everybody, but most of the people in the department were enamored of behavioral psychology.
Well, they gave me an assistantship and put me in charge of the rat lab. And so since that was all going so cozy, I graduated, and partly because I -- I liked the courses and I considered them very easy, why, I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and I won the Sigma Xi prize, which is a scientific honorary for the -- it was for the graduating senior showing the most promise in research. And a student in psychology had never won that previously.
So that really fixed up my relationship with the psychology department real well. I sort of brought an honor on the department that had never happened before. And so they invited me to go to graduate school there, and so I went to graduate school for a year in psychology.
But in the meantime, being really, really disenchanted with behavioral psychology, I think -- I think now that B. F. Skinner is really -- has been a malignant intellectual force. One book that he wrote later on was Beyond Freedom and Dignity. And the title of that book offends me and angers me, be it -- I don't think there's anything beyond freedom and dignity.
Beyond freedom and dignity, it's -- it's not popular now, but it used to be very popular about sometime in the '50s, I guess. I'm kind of --
Section 2: BILL SCHNEIDER: But you got disenchanted with behavioral psychology?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: I did. And so -- so while I was doing that year of graduate study in psychology and had an assistantship in that department, I was taking a few courses here and there to -- that would qualify me to go to medical school. And so because I -- I had found out about psychiatry.
In fact, I had a reading course with a psychiatrist who was attached to the psychology department, and at the same time to the student health service. And decided I wanted to be a psychiatrist.
So -- so I graduated, that would have been in '54.
I actually didn't finish -- I don't want to go into this but back before that, I was late going to college. I didn't really complete high school until I was 21 years old. And started -- that was in spring of '49 and started in college in the fall of '49, so I was a little older than most of the students when I got in.
Well, anyhow, I graduated with a BA in psychology in -- in '54, I guess. And was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. So then I applied to medical school, went to medical school. Well, then -- so I was always interested in psychiatry from the time I first heard about it. And of course, psychology and psychiatry are wrapped up so close together that you can't separate them. In a way.
So then -- then I just went through the usual routine, four years of medical school, and one year of rotating internship, and then I had to do three years of psychiatric residency.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Where did you graduate from medical school?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Indiana University.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Indiana. Uh-hum.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Up through getting my medical degree, I did all my college work at Indiana University. Which was a blessing to me.
At the time, you know, more recently they've got all these community college, and I think it's wonderful because more people can go to college if there's colleges in their hometown. It makes it a lot easier. It's really not -- at least at that time it wasn't so much the tuition, the expense of college wasn't so much the tuition, it's -- it's just living, it's the board and room.
Section 3: BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-hum. Where did you do your residencies?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, after I did my internship in Riverside, California, I became a resident at Ohio State University Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. But after a year of -- by then, I had married in '53, and by then we had five children. We had two when we went to California, and three when we came back.
Our daughter lives in Fairbanks, was born in California, but she only -- only lived there about six months and we moved back. When my year internship was up.
And so I went to Ohio State for a year.
And by then we were having such a tough time to get along financially that I dropped out of the residency there and took a position as -- well, it was called psychiatric physician; that is, a lot of doctors who worked in state mental hospitals at that time didn't have residency training, that was a new thing.
In fact, the -- there was a lot of kind of like scuffling for some years about whether people were board members or not. That is -- I remember in Riverside, we had one -- one surgeon on the staff of the hospital, the attending staff, supposedly they taught the interns and residents. I -- I don't remember seeing any staff doctors around there. I think -- I think I remember one session with one internist, maybe two. But -- but mostly we were on our own.
Anyhow, we had -- we had a surgeon at Riverside and some -- some of the other residents, some of the residents, surgery residents, told me about this, I didn't care much about that particular thing, in that field, that the board surgeons, the surgeons who were members of the American Board of Surgery didn't think he should -- was qualified to practice because he hadn't done a residency in surgery.
After he had finished his internship in this country, at that time everybody had to take a rotating internship. And so later they let the people take straight internships they called it, you go straight into surgery after medical school without rotating in medicine and OB/GYN and those things. And so a lot of people -- now people take straight internships. And so internship and residency is practically the same thing.
But anyhow, some of the -- some of the guys who were wanting to be surgeons told me that -- that the board surgeons could not squeeze that guy out of the faculty because he had -- after medical school, he had gone to -- to Africa kind of a -- what was that guy's name, Schweitzer, something like that, he had gone over there and worked in hospitals,
and he had more experience doing surgery than anybody, because he had been over there for 20 years or something, and -- and he was a member of the American College of Physicians -- of Surgeons. And so I -- I don't know why I got into that, I shouldn't have, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: In your particular case, though, you took that job --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, oh in--that's right. That's the point. In the medical -- in the mental hospitals, they didn't start setting up boards to determine whether specialists -- the purpose of a board, the specialty board, is to determine -- to choose which people are qualified to practice that specialty, which ones are really qualified to call themselves surgeons or psychiatrists or whatever. And -- and that all started, I think, in the 1920s or so.
Section 4: So at the time I got into the field, when I -- when I -- I got a job at Richmond State Hospital in Richmond, Indiana, after doing my year of residency at Ohio State I was as qualified and more qualified than anybody that worked -- any of the doctors there.
One of the doctors was 86 years old and had played football with Alonzo Stagg and told me proudly that he had walked the halls, he said, of mental hospital -- of a mental hospital before the turn of the century. I mean, the 19th Century.
I kind of figured that out, and I thought, well, that's possible, maybe as a medical student he did that. But anyhow, and one was a graduate of an osteopathic medical school in Pennsylvania called Am -- Amman (phonetic), which still exists, I think, but I think they -- I don't know.
Anyhow, so I was called a psychiatric physician, so the superintendent and assistant superintendent and the clinical director all had been grandfathered in by the boards. All the people that worked in the psychiatric field all during their careers, I mean, they -- they would -- they got grandfathered in when their boards were set up.
Well, that's more or less beside the point, but I was -- under the board system, I wasn't considered a fully qualified psychiatrist, but -- but I could work at the mental hospital. And because you didn't even have to be a psychiatrist to work there.
So I worked there two years, and then I went to Michigan and was a resident for two years at Ypsilanti State Hospital, which the residency there is combined with the University of Michigan.
We -- we did our neurology rotation up at the university, like, for one thing. Their residents came down to us and we went up there. It's kind of a satellite of the Ann Arbor complex.
So then I went back. I went back to the same State Hospital in Indiana and worked there five years. And then I decided to come -- now we finally get --
Section 5: BILL SCHNEIDER: Why? Why did you decide to come up here?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: My short answer to that, often, not totally serious, is insanity.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Insanity.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And you can take that various ways.
KAREN BREWSTER: You say your insanity or somebody else's?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, that's -- that still remains a question. However, really, more seriously, and I think I -- I mean, this may be recorded for posterity.
BILL SCHNEIDER: It is.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And I -- I was looking for a challenge, for one thing. And I was just looking for a change and something -- something different to do. And I had always -- I had always been very much an outdoor person. I mean, I was raised in the woods.
People wouldn't believe how -- how some of us used to live in those times, but you know, they say Abraham Lincoln grew up in a log cabin, well I used to sleep in a hollow log when I was a kid. I mean, I crawled in a hollow log and slept in there. And --
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you were looking for a challenge, looking for the back-country when you came here?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. And I -- I thought -- I remember talking to my wife, Elise (phonetic), my late wife at that time, and I told her, well, I don't want to stay here because it's too much the same thing all the time, and it never changes.
And so I had always -- I had always been interested in the outdoors very much, and -- and so I said, I'm in a kind of a -- I've got kind of a building conflict because the psychiatrist has to be where there's lots of people to practice. I mean, I think, you know, it wouldn't be much point in a psychiatrist locating in an area where there was just a few people within driving distance, or whatever. It should be a community maybe with 10,000 people to support a psychiatrist, I suppose.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What was your job when you came up?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: What?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Was your job in Fairbanks?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Oh, I'll get to that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: The personal decision was I liked -- I liked -- I liked to be where there's a lot of woods, and everything is not so developed as it is down there. And -- and yet, I like to be where there's a university. And I need to be where there's enough population to -- I could work there.
So -- but then studying about that a long time, I've, you know, it wasn't hard to figure out, Fairbanks is the only place that meets those qualifications. And so that's why I decided we're going to move to Fairbanks. So that's -- that's -- that's how come I got the job.
Well, in '68 or '69, I wrote up here and asking about the possibility of working. I wrote -- I contacted the university and the mental health department.
I think I contacted the university and -- and I think they gave my name to the -- to the mental health office there, the state mental health operation.
And so my job -- first I worked halftime. The job was only halftime. There had never been a full time psychiatrist in Anchorage -- I mean, in Fairbanks at the time.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Really.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: And -- well, in a way there was, stationed with the Army. And I know they had at least one halftime psychiatrist before I came, he was in the Army, but still the Army permitted him to work part time for the state. So I don't know how they made their business arrangements about that.
I mean, in a way, I think some people might say, he said after work on his off time for the Army, he had to -- but somehow they might detach him, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: With business people, where there's a will, there's a way, you know. I mean, they don't -- whatever they can get away with, I think, is what business people do.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: But anyhow, without getting into that, I worked halftime for six months and -- and that was really the hard way to do it because I had -- because I was -- I didn't make half as much money especially when I was working halftime, I -- I don't remember what fraction it was, but -- but I made less than half as much as I did in Indiana.
And I came up at my own expense, you know, with my own trip planning and everything, and I -- I didn't find out or think about it until just -- I mean, in recent years since I was retired and had time to think about these things, the state had a program that they would pay expenses for people to come up here and work. And most of them would come up here and work two years, and if you came up and worked for the state for a year, then -- then they would pay you way back where you came from.
So that's how a whole lot of state workers came up here at that time. But I didn't even know about that, and nobody ever told me about it. And -- but I do remember, I remember that we had a psychologist who came to work at the clinic in Fairbanks and he had some problems while he was up here.
He and I were good friends, but he -- he had some -- he had problems enough that he and his family wanted desperately to get out of here, and -- and he left about a week before -- if he would have stayed another week or so, he would have qualified to get his expenses paid going back. But they didn't even pay your expenses up here until after you had been here a year, then they would pay you for them.
So he -- but he went back in spite of that, in spite of the fact if he'd waited a week more, he just was not going to wait until snow flew again. And so I -- I kind of missed that guy, but --
Section 6: BILL SCHNEIDER: You were working then, am I correct, the mental health clinic in Fairbanks?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yes. And that was at the corner of Cushman and First upstairs. The first, the Corner Bar, there was a bar on the corner, doesn't have an upstairs, it's a flat roof, but the Pastime Cafe is on Cushman level, almost on the corner, and it has a second floor. And so there's the bar on the corner, there's a door on Cushman, then there's a door that goes upstairs, and then there's a Pastime Cafe.
So our office was upstairs. That was the state Mental Health Regional Office. It was -- it was just an administrative office at first.
The secretary that was there when I came there, I wish I could think of her name, but I think maybe it was Dorothy, she -- she told me that they used to be in the state office building, that office was in -- it was just a one person office.
And she told me some interesting stories about what had happened there. She said that a psychologist or somebody was hired from Outside to come and be the regional administrator.
What they would do would be to -- well, you've got to go back to the law when the state was set up, the state took responsibility for mental health matters.
And -- and the federal government took responsibility for Native physical health matters, but not mental health matters. And as Karen and I exchanged in our phone conversation, it used to be Inside, Outside, Morningside, and she added Suicide, which is true.
During territorial days, if a person was thought to be or, you know, very often was obviously mentally disturbed, he could be taken into custody by a marshal, I guess, and a federal judge could send him -- send him down to Morningside but the state would -- the state would pay for the some of the transportation in there, that sort of thing.
And maybe the state did that. Well, now we've got to where we got the state. When we've got the Territory, we don't have any state yet.
So I don't know what the Territory did but I think they sent people to Morningside somehow. They had a contract with Morningside Hospital in Portland, I think.
And so then after API was built, and after this state was -- after the state got Statehood, and there was a state office, and what they mostly did at first was to pay for and arrange the travel for people to -- to -- to go to API, to be taken to API.
And so this -- the secretary, she was an older lady and I'm sure is expired now, but she -- she told me that once they had a fellow who came to be the regional officer and he went in his office and closed the door and he never came out again. And a couple of ladies working in and out of her office, the secretary and receptionist types, they wondered about him but they never saw him again. This is what she claimed. I can't imagine this.
And so finally they contacted some other people after this went on, she claimed, for weeks or months. That's hard to believe. And -- and finally some people came and carried the man away.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, man.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: So sometimes it didn't work so good, and sometimes it worked better, I guess.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But you were operating there on the corner of First and Cushman, and then were you seeing patients there?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Absolutely. By the time I came there, the clinic was supposed to furnish treatment for mental health problems, and they had an administrator who was -- I believe he had a masters in psychology,
and during the time I was there, usually another psychologist or two and a couple social workers, and they had a part time psychiatrist who would consult from the Army until I came, and then I worked there halftime, supposedly, but in something like psychiatry, I mean, you can't work halftime.
You wind up working full time.
So I was -- I was working full time for half time wages and I didn't complain about it, but I -- I would have probably left there the next spring, I mean. I didn't even say that -- I mean, I didn't even feel that way, but I would have probably had to or going to some different practice -- kind of practice there or something.
But -- but at the end of that year, they made it a full time position. And then -- and then the administrator told me he didn't need to do this, but instead of telling me that here's an opportunity, your position is going to be full time, he told me the Division of Mental Health is making this job full time and you can have it if you want it, but if you don't take it, we'll get somebody else.
Well, I was broke because I hadn't saved up all that much money in Indiana, and I -- like I say, I came up at my own expense and working halftime, and you know, having to outfit all of us and everything. I mean, it was a challenge, but a challenge is what I was looking for.
Anyhow, then I began working full time, and so I probably was not -- I came up in the spring of '70, and went to work the 1st of July, I think, halftime, and probably -- it might have been -- it was probably January 1st, 1971, before I was full time.
And then I was -- I was the northern regional psychiatrist. And the northern regional psychiatrist had some responsibility for state mental health matters, and especially treatment of mental illness. Everything north of the range in the state or simply --
Section 7: BILL SCHNEIDER: So did you travel to villages and communities?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: No. I -- I did not travel very much, and probably -- probably I was a -- I think probably some people were -- were critical of that, but I have a different attitude about travel than -- than a lot of people care to have or do have and I --
I try to establish relationships different places, and you know, it's -- if I was going to do anything about the problem, I figured, well, you know, the wheel that squeaks get the grease.
After I retired, after I -- after I retired and came down here, I met a lady doctor in Palmer and she's still in practice there, and I think she came to the senior center to -- to give a talk on nutrition, and she and I chatted a little bit, and she told me when I was at -- I forget what they call it now, it doesn't matter, the hospital in Nome,
I think it's called Maynard McDougall Hospital, she had been in Nome, she practiced there for a while, she did family practice.
She said -- I asked -- I asked people what -- what -- what do you do when you have a person has mental health problems, and she said, "They told me, 'Call Dr. South in Fairbanks.'"
And so -- so then when I came down here, to Palmer, and opened up practice here, I asked, "What do you do -- what do you do down here if you -- you've got a problem, a person, a patient who has mental health problems?"
And she said, and they told me, to my surprise, "Call Dr. South in Anchorage."
And I said, "Is he down here, too?"
Because in the meantime, I had moved from Fairbanks down here. And so I did -- I did travel some, but if -- if they had -- if they had a person, like, in Nome and she told me that he was hallucinating and delusional and so on, and his father had been that way before him, just to make up a case, you know.
And she had him in the hospital and keeping him kind of snockered with tranquilizers, but I arranged for him to get down to API. And all we had to do in that office administratively, all I had to do was ask the administrator to make a travel voucher, you know, issue the -- to ship that guy from Nome to API, and they did.
I mean, they would. And sometimes very often we would have to arrange escorts. And so we could keep in touch with a lot of patients around the state.
Later on, after I had been there for a good while, they -- it was organized and planned that -- that each -- each person at the clinic there would do some travelling and so I -- I had had some contacts already.
The Public Health Service, the Native Health Service had a nurse stationed at Fort Yukon. She was in -- what was originally a log building there, it was built by, oh, the famous minister who planned --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hudson Stuck maybe?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Hudson Stuck.
Hudson Stuck built that log building for the hospital. And it had been used that way for a long time, but after the development of air transportation, a person in Fort Yukon who was sick could go see the nurse at the clinic and she would -- she could arrange to get a plane and take him to -- to Fairbanks to the hospital there, or to the hospital at Tanana.
And so since I was the consultant to -- to the Public Health Service, well, my itinerary was I would go to Fort Yukon to the clinic there, and to -- and down the Tanana to the -- to the hospital, the Public Health Service Hospital, which has since been discontinued.
I remember once I went down to Tanana and they had a fellow there, they used to catch people in Tanana that would come floating down the Yukon. In the summer, it was kind of popular. I -- I remember a few cases kind of dimly.
One -- one fellow decided he wanted to -- he wanted to go to Siberia, and so quite a few -- there were actually a number of people like this, he came to -- he came to Fairbanks and found out where the Chena ran into the Tanana and went down to the launching place and launched himself on a log, you know, and floated down the river.
And they caught him floating through Tanana, you know. And the people there went out in their boats and dragged him in and put him in the hospital. He probably complained they were violating his rights, he just wanted to -- he just wanted to float to the USSR.
Anyhow, I don't know -- I don't remember what was the problem, but -- with -- with everybody, but I think that was kind of a common kind of thing, that people would be kind of strained out of the river.
But I -- I remember -- well, I'll try to remember some other things.
I used to go to the clinic at Fort Yukon and to the hospital at Tanana, and -- and I remember once I attended a -- sort of a big meeting, you know, and all agencies got together in Nome, and guess what, the subject was the extremely high rate of suicide among Native youth. That summer they had 15 kids kill themselves.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Was that in the '70s?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Yeah. And if you take a broad view of these sort of things is you look at a paper, if I have it right, I don't have a paper directly I can look at it, they are talking about -- and they are having big meetings this year about it, too.
Section 8: Well, so I'll just -- I'll just touch on suicide a little bit, which is a -- it's been shown that suicide sort of -- suicide prevention hotlines tend to increase the rate of suicide. And so they've kind of gotten unpopular, although people -- people want to do something, but I think -- I think it's kind of like to some degree it's related to raising kids, how you make kids do what you want them to do.
Well, you can't. You -- you can, but one thing that the behaviorists learned is that a bunch of people it doesn't work unless it's real severe. And so, but mothers know and everybody should know, like with kids with problems, little kids with ordinary problems, I mean, just, you know, family things, you move and distract.
And so I think -- I think they ought to focus on -- I mean, people want to focus on what looks like a problem, like locally in Anchorage, one big problem is people dying all over, the people in the parks and wooded areas and so on. And so they are all focusing on that is we better do, find bodies there or what, or run these people out of these parks so they won't die there, because they are an eyesore, a nuisance or something.
Well, you ought to do -- you ought to focus on all the rest -- the rest of life, I mean, you know, like you would -- if you got a kid with a problem, if the kid wants to get in the oven to see how the brownies are baking or something, get him interested in something somewhere else.
I mean, this is kind of fuzzy, and it's not so much fuzzy thinking, it's just I haven't just organized this thought, but you need to look at the rest of life. I mean, what have these people got -- what has a person got to live for?
And there's lots of things you can do, but a lot of people say, well, that's not right to the point.
The guy can still go get him a fifth of whiskey and go in the park and lay down and drink it and die. Well, that's true, but you kind of got to catch him before that. I mean, you can't do much about that at that point.
So I -- I remember going to -- going to -- to Nome to kind of a big general meeting. I remember that the Public Health -- there were two Public Health psychiatrists at the Public Health hospital, the old one down on -- oh, I don't know, Third Avenue in -- in Anchorage, that they -- I remember they -- they were commissioned officers in the Public Health, they wore uniforms.
But they did not see any patients, but they were -- for the administrative people, they were in the planning and management or something. So later I think that's changed.
Well, I went to get some dinner at a cafe, and -- and almost got in a fight with a Eskimo guy. An Eskimo woman was agitating because I was just sitting there by myself, and they came and sat down.
And when they asked me what I was -- I think they thought I was a tourist, although it was wintertime, from Outside or something because they wanted to quiz me.
And he said, "Where are you here from, San Francisco or LA or New York or what?"
And I said, "No, I'm from Fairbanks."
And -- and he wanted to know what you're here for.
And I told him, "Well, there's been a lot of suicides among the young people in Nome, and so we're here to have a meeting to talk about that."
And -- and they said, "No, no, you shouldn't talk about that stuff."
Well, right there is one thing. Right there is the idea that people should -- well, it's kind of like let's ignore this problem and maybe it will go away.
But I -- I remember they asked me if -- if I would meet with the other kids who were friends of these kids, and because that was the people they were particularly concerned about. So -- so -- so we did. I did.
And later a fellow who was permanently in -- in Nome, I don't know what ages he was with, but -- but he was kind of like the community organizer or something, he called me and thanked me later. Later after -- after that, he said, "I didn't really think when I first saw you here that you could do that, but you did really well."
BILL SCHNEIDER: You could do what?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Have a group meeting with these other young people there. The peers of the victims of suicide. Because it was feared that since it had been like dominoes that they were at particular risk, and that's true. This has been known for years. I mean, it's -- it's a fact that if you have a parent who has suicided, you're more likely to suicide, unfortunately.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And what did you tell those young people?
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, it wasn't so much -- well, I'll tell you one thing I told them. And this isn't really true, totally true, but I had an idea one time that if a person felt that there was one person that give a damn about whether he lived or died, that he would -- that he wouldn't kill himself. That's not -- that's not totally true.
But I knew a psychiatrist who did just administrative work, he told me that after he finished his training, he started in practice down in California. In the first three days of his practice, three of the people that he had seen one or more times during that two week days committed suicide, and he decided, "I cannot take this. So I've practiced 30 days and I've lost three patients already. And if this is the way the practice of psychiatry goes, well, I'm out of here."
So he became a hospital administrator, which is what happened to me.
So -- but during the time -- during the time -- during the time that I practiced psychiatry, I had -- I had very, very few people to suicide.
In -- in Fairbanks, it used to be fairly common that beginning on Monday morning, I mean, beginning Monday I would see three or four people, and in one day I might see three or four people who were referred to me because -- because of being -- because they were depressed and suicidal. It was very common.
And I don't -- I never accumulated any figures on it because all the -- I won the prize showing the most promise in research, but, boy, was I a loser on that. I've never done any research. But I've been doing my own learning.
Anyhow, of all the people that I had referred to me to be depressed and suicidal, I could count on one hand the people I've known who -- who actually committed suicide.
You know, in my whole career. I mean, in Indiana and Ohio and Michigan and up here.
And so I'm -- if -- if I knew somebody was suicidal, I would not advise anybody to go over there and talk to them about suicide every damn day or make them call in and talk about how suicidal are you today.
But try to relate to them, and relate to them.
And people want to know, well, how you relate to them? Well, be interested in other things yourself, and interest them in things. And you know, I mean, material things like if you have the latest DVD or whatever the kids are going crazy about, the iPods or something.
Or if it's that, or in Nome, have you -- have you caught any of them little cloud fish, I forget what you call them.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But the time --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: How about let's go do that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: The time in which you were practicing and the suicide issue was raging, kind of, that kind of corresponded with the pipeline, didn't it, and the developments in Fairbanks, and --
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: Well, it's hard to -- it's hard to say what was on. I mean, the -- the big -- this epidemic of suicide that I was talking about was primarily a phenomenon in the Native villages, but of course, Fairbanks is a Native village, and Anchorage is the largest Native village in the world. There are more Eskimos -- there are more Alaska Natives in Anchorage than anywhere else.
But -- but it was mainly -- it was seen as a rural problem, it was seen as a village problem. Because Nome is not a Native village originally. The Natives never settled there, there was no reason to. But -- but after the big Gold Rush there, then -- then after the town got established, Natives moved into it, which is what seems to happen all over the world, you know. I mean, towns grow.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
DR. HAROLD SOUTH: It's like Fairbanks is -- was not a Native village originally. But anyhow, but --