Survivors' post traumatic stress syndrome/suicides

Jan Wood

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Jun 8, 2004
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I would also be very interested to read further information on those survivors who committed or even attempted to commit suicide.

I wonder if it is known if any of them left a note of explanation?

I cannot begin to imagine the horrors that those survivors endured in terms of flash backs and memories and nightmares.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hallo Christophe -

I've known PTSD sufferers, and it is indeed a frightening and disturbing condition that has been sadly misunderstood in the past.

I suspect you've already done a search on the board to see how this subject has been covered, but for anyone interested here are some other threads where it has come up:

Survivor's suicides:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5667/1603.html

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/8571.html

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/87003.html?1086823794#POST122320

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5667/4975.html

Thayer's suicide:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/27665.html

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/4731.html

Washington Dodge:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/10260.html

George Brereton:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/66558.html

The first time I read his biographer's account of Lightoller's experience in a cold bath in 1913 I thought it sounded like a classic PTSD flashback.

I'm going to merge this thread into one of the pre-existing 'survivor suicide' thread, as there are already several extant. Hopefully you will get more feedback on specific possible suicide/PTSD links.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I've noticed that many period newspapers (particularly in the States) reported survivors being crazed and hysterical upon arrival in New York - one journalist even has the redoubtable Mrs Brown in fits, on the verge of collapse and moaning about 'scores of dead babies' aboard the 'Carpathia'.

Yet, stripping away the sensationalist hype, it seems that - by and large - a high level of decorum was observed. Lawrence Beesley makes direct reference to this in his account: the scene upon landing in New York was, in fact, almost eerily quiet and composed, most survivors being too overcome or exhausted to indulge in any kind of histrionics. Press photographers, too, seem have recorded individuals shattered or dazed rather than in obvious emotional distress.

Which is not to say that distress or strain wasn't felt - it certainly was. Many survivors would go on to lead more than usually full, active and rewarding lives and would doubtless be reluctant to have their 'Titanic' experience seen as their 'defining moment'...but, for myself, I have no difficulty believing that the disaster may have left very deep psychological scars on those involved.

Several prominent suicides (Jack Thayer, Washington Dodge) have been discussed here at length. I'm not a forensics man, and nor am I a psychologist, but the 'Titanic' must have done much to destabilise the emotional states of many who would otherwise have been perfectly well balanced. I don't know when treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder became widely available, or even when the condition itself was officially recognised, but I have my doubts that either I, or anybody I know, could go through an experience equivalent to the sinking of the 'Titanic' and then pick up the threads of normality without recourse to medical or psychological treatment of some kind. This certainly was not the case in 1912 or for some time afterwards. For example, it was noted that many men fresh out of the trenches of World War One suffered extreme cases of 'shell shock' which literally left them unable to function, either mentally or physically. Yet many doctors and senior officers treated the entire notion of 'shell shock' with contempt and, in several instances, sufferers were even shot for cowardice. Which I think says a lot for the prevailing 'stiff upper lip' mentality of the time. Even my own grandparents, who came of age during World War Two, have been known to sniff disapprovingly at those police officers who demanded compensation for the appalling sights they witnessed during the Hillsborough Tragedy of 1989, their verdict being that, if you don't want to see terrible things, then you shouldn't be in the police force in the first place.

Of course, suicide is the most extreme manifestation of PTSD. But scores of others must have been affected as well. And this is what I'm trying to get at. Does anybody out there with an interest in the lives of survivors know of cases where a diagnosis of PTSD can definitely be made? From what I've read, Lightoller experienced a kind of temporary 'shell shock' whilst in his bath a year or so after the sinking. Marian Thayer, according to the scanty information I have regarding her later years, seems to have retreated into solitude after the disaster and even made attempts to contact her dead husband through mediums. Lucy Duff Gordon (a feisty woman if ever there was one) wrote in a heart-felt letter to Margot Asquith that Sir Cosmo would often hole up in his library in Lennox Gardens, staring silently into the fire, and replaying over and over again in his mind the sounds and sights of that night. Twenty years later, she also told her sister that she hated even to think of the 'Titanic' and the events surrounding the catastrophe. Kate Phillips, from second class, appears to have been an extremely disturbed individual. Edith Russell ended up leading the bizarre, 'Grey Gardens' existence, railing against the world in squalor and filth. And Lucile Carter, a pillar of American Society, divorced her husband and came to be noted for her paranoia and eccentricity.
 

Harland Duzen

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Jan 14, 2017
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One thing I think many people overlook in looking at evidence of the Titanic's sinking was possible trauma / horror experienced by the Survivors. As with War / Victims of brutal events, the survivors to name a few:

A) Saw the largest manmade object in existence sink and tear apart before them with exploding / collapsing funnels, decks being ripped to shreds and the sound of furniture and objects being smashed to pieces.

B) The Survivors heard 1500 people stuck in freezing people screaming and dying in angory before seeing the corpses while getting onboard the Carpathia.

C) The Survivors saw others injured or killed in horrendous ways (Charlotte Collyer saw an Fireman bleeding from the hand missing several fingers to name just one injury).

Even after the sinking, This Websites Bio list dozens of effects with surviors hair turning white, falling ill , suffering fear of water and more (One story I heard was to get a survivor onto the boat back to England, a family member got them drunk and carried them onboard drunk so they could't resist).

Another factor is that many suffered breakdowns or lapses of memory affecting their memory of the disaster (e.g. an scene lasting seconds would become engrained in the mind making them believe it lasted minutes such as the disputed idea of the lights remaining on after the breakup).

What are your opinions on this?
 

Kyle Naber

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Oct 5, 2016
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Certainly. I've heard a story about a woman who made it to New York that lost a baby in the sinking. After arriving to America, she would snatch up other couple's babies and claim that it was hers!
 
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Aaron_2016

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Albert Pearcey was in Collapsible C and would have witnessed the sinking quite close:

Q - Could you tell that her keel was visible?
A - Yes, the keel was visible.
Q - Then, when you saw that, what did you next see happen to the stern?
A - She went down, you see. It upset me, and I could not exactly say.
Q - It upset you and you cannot give us a description of what happened?
A - No.

His silence tells us how terrifying it must have been, and he did not want to think about it and repeat those horrific scenes in his mind.


Several survivors committed suicide although it is uncertain if the traumatic events of the disaster had lingered in their minds and affected their decision to take their own life. e.g.

Dr. Dodge - Shot himself in 1919
Dr. Frauenthal - Jumped to death in 1927
Mr. Niskanen - Killed himself in 1927
Mr. Thayer - Killed himself in 1945
Mr. Davies - Killed himself in 1951
Ms. J. Quick - Shot herself in 1954
Mr. Fleet - Hung himself in 1965

Also Annie Robinson was a stewardess and in October 1914 she was sailing to New York when she heard the fog horn at night and threw herself overboard. The ship stopped and the emergency boat was lowered, but it was too late.

William Lucas was an Able seaman and in 1921 he boarded an express train to London. He entered a First class compartment and when the train was passing 'Hichins' station he pulled out a gun and shot himself. The papers said he was insane with a ruling verdict of suicide while of unsound mind. His brother was reported to say he 'had been peculiar in his behaviour ever since he was shipwrecked on the Titanic' and how he behaved queer since the disaster. He answered many questions at the official Inquiry and was in collapsible D which was very close to the ship when it sank.


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Andrew Williams

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For the record - Annie Robinson or Annie Mary Robinson was her adopted name she used as a means of hiding her true indenity. She actually kind-off pinched this name from her Son-in-laws side of the family based out in the United States. And yes I do possess both her birth and marriage certificates, she was born in Bedfordshire and married in Liverpool and had two daughters. One married out in the United States whilst the other remained living in Britain as a spinsiter all her life until she died in the eighties.
 
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Talira Greycrest

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It's important to remember the trauma that the survivors would have felt. Imagine getting in one of those lifeboats and having to leave behind someone you cared about....your husband....your father....your cousin or sibling. Think of the grief the survivors would have experienced knowing that their loved ones had died, then having to pass that news on to other relatives and friends.
 
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Aaron_2016

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I think the survivors were hoping that their loved ones were aboard another ship. Survivor Edith Rosenbaum said:

"The Californian, which stood alongside, was asked to remain about the scene of the wreck and pick up whatever passengers it could. We were under the impression that the Californian had saved many lives. However, we afterwards found out that not only did it save no one, but made no effort to do so...."

The survivors may have held onto this hope, especially when more rescue ships arrived at the scene. Not sure when or if the captain made an official announcement to the survivors to let them know they were the only survivors, but word of mouth would have eventually spread throughout the ship.

.
 
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Talira Greycrest

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Fortunately, a number of survivors were lucky enough to be reunited with friends and loved ones whom they thought had died.
 
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Jun 28, 2018
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I came across an article describing a woman who was 22 at the time of the sinking suffering PTSD at the age of 95, alongside dementia. I looked on this site for female passengers born in late 1889 or early 1890 and think it is most likely Alice Cleaver the article discusses. She was the nursemaid for the Allison family, which is consistent with her remarks in the article about "saving the children". She survived until age 95 in 1984. I have taken screenshots of the part of the article about her and some of her information from her biography on this site.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Well this is not a pleasant subject but I got curious after reading thru this thread. Here's what I found in case anyone wanted to know. From the numbers I looked at the suicide rate per 100,000 was slightly higher in 1912 than the end of the century. The overall rate thru the 20th century has been around .00013 percent plus or minus a few ticks. The rate among Titanic's survivors is around .01 so defiantly much higher than the average rate.

Figure1HomicideStolinsky.jpg


Of course numbers don't tell the whole story. They just show trends not individual stories. What I did find surprising was that during the Great Depression the rate actually had a pretty dramatic drop off. I would have thought it would have been the opposite.
 
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Aaron_2016

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I believe the sharp reduction in suicides from the 1935 - 1940 period was a result of President Roosevelt's economic policies which turned the mood of the country around and the popular song 'Happy Days Are Here Again' became a slogan during his first term in office.

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Nov 14, 2005
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Well its possible I guess but from early 1937 to late 1942 the economy took another crash after a rise from the 1932-33 lows. It really wasn't until 1943 when the market started taking off again from the economic boost from WW2. But its hard to correlate these things. Cause and effects don't always jive. Another statistic I ran across while looking up the info on Titanic and the 20th century rates was that from 1999 to 2016 the rate went up 25% in the U.S. 9-11 and the 2008 crash sucked but I don't believe they would cause that jump in rates. Maybe high rates amongst the vets returning from the mid-east? I don't know. Ok, getting off topic. Back to Titanic.