Saturday, December 10, 2011

Can artwork influence suicidal thoughts? (Or can art trigger the symptoms of a dying society already within us?)

The Russian capital's shiny new metro station is called Dostoevskaya, after author Fyodor Dostoevsky. But that's not what's getting the buzz in the international press.

The Moscow station has grayscale mosaics depicting scenes from Dostoevsky's stories, which are characteristically dark and violent. One image shows the "Crime and Punishment" protagonist murdering two women with an ax, and another shows a man holding a gun to his head. The latter isn't the focal point of the station; it's one of several artistic renderings of Dostoevsky's fiction on the walls.

Still, the artwork has been raising eyebrows among mental health professionals and bloggers alike. The question remains: Could this subway station become a place that encourages suicidal behavior?

It is, of course, too early to say what will happen, but having an image of someone with a gun to his head is problematic and could be inviting suicidal behavior, said Madelyn Gould, a psychiatrist at Columbia University.

"You certainly don't want to do anything that might in any way contribute to someone's motivation to die by suicide," Gould said.

Images of suicide, be they in art, cinema or news media, can make the act seem more real to vulnerable people, who have probably been suffering from depression or other mental illness and feel stressed, experts say. Something like the mosaic at Dostoevskaya isn't all bad or good, but it can affect people already at risk, said Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist at Emory University. more