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Seattle struggled with suicide in late stages of the 1918 flu

May 7, 2020
By Knute Berger

The recent suicide of an experienced New York emergency room doctor, who was treating patients with COVID-19 and contracted it herself, is a startling reminder of the toll the virus can take on mental, as well as physical, health. Trauma from the novel coronavirus, we are learning, can reverberate far beyond the respiratory consequences of the disease itself.

While researching the impact of the Spanish flu outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, I was struck reading through old newspapers — particularly in the lesser-studied late stages of the pandemic, in 1919 and 1920 — by accounts of suicides and suicide attempts that mention influenza as a possible cause or contributing factor. The people who died by suicide appear to come from all walks of life: a doctor in Portland, a livery driver in Belltown, an Olympia lumber company worker, the wife of a Seattle flu victim, an Oregon hardware salesman, an unemployed Spokane bricklayer.

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