The world of mental health lost a prominent figure this week as David Shaffer, an esteemed and pioneering expert on child and teenage suicide, passed away at the age of 87.
Shaffer was born in 1933 in Pennsylvania and attended college at Columbia University. After graduating in 1953, he went on to pursue his medical degree at the same college. He completed his residency at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, after which he decided to pursue child psychiatry and joined the Columbia faculty in 1966.
Throughout his career, Shaffer focused on understanding and treating suicidal behavior in teenagers, specifically. He developed the first standardized assessment tool for adolescent suicide attempt. His work was also instrumental in building and creating a reliable database on adolescent suicide that is still used in research today. He was also the first to establish a suicide prevention program in a public school, inspiring many such programs around the world.
In addition to his research, Shaffer was a dedicated teacher and mentor to countless medical students, residents, and mental health professionals. He served as a professor at Columbia University for over 38 years and was much-loved by all of his students for his kindness, generosity, and compassion.
Shaffer was recognized for his work with several awards, including the Research Career Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Columbia Psychiatry Alumni Award. He published over 180 scholarly papers and authored or edited six books on the topic of adolescent suicide.
David Shaffer’s legacy will live on in the countless lives he has helped, and his work will continue to inspire us into the future.