The Act and Follow-through of Suicide: Part IV

Compilation of Statistics Regarding Suicide

Scott Anderson in his NYT article weaves the grim statistics of suicide in and out of his story. Here’s the morbid list:

General

  • mental illnessThe nation’s suicide rate (11 victims per 100,000 inhabitants) is almost precisely what it was in 1965.
  • In 2005, approximately 32,000 Americans committed suicide, or nearly twice the number of those killed by homicide.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health says that 90 percent of all suicide “completers” display some form of diagnosable mental disorder.

Demographics

  • Both elderly men living in Western states and white male adolescents from divorced families are at elevated risk.

Premeditation vs. Passion

  • [T]he person who best fits the classic definition of “being suicidal” might actually be safer than one acting in the heat of the moment — at least 40 times safer in the case of someone opting for an overdose of pills over shooting himself.
  • In a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts between the ages of 13 and 34, only 13 percent reported having contemplated their act for eight hours or longer. To the contrary, 70 percent set the interval between deciding to kill themselves and acting at less than an hour, including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes.
  • “Sticking one’s head in the oven” became so common in Britain that by the late 1950s it accounted for some 2,500 suicides a year, almost half the nation’s total. By the early 1970s, the amount of carbon monoxide
    running through domestic gas lines had been reduced to nearly zero. During those same years, Britain’s national suicide rate dropped by nearly a third, and it has remained close to that reduced level ever since.

Jumping

  • Jumpers have a lower history of prior suicide attempts, diagnosed mental illness (with the exception of schizophrenia) or drug and alcohol abuse than is found among those who die by less lethal methods, like taking pills or poison.

The Golden Gate Bridge

  • Golden Gate BridgeThe Golden Gate has had the distinction of being the most popular suicide magnet on earth, a  place where an estimated 2,000 people have ended their lives.
  • The number of would-be jumpers thwarted from leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge between 1937 and 1971 totaled 515 individuals; about 6-10 percent of individuals were deemed as death by suicide.
  • Less than 10 percent of people thwarted from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge went on to kill themselves, a host of studies show that same percentage holds among those who carry out “near fatal” attempts but somehow survive.

The Ellington and Taft Bridges

  • Ellington_and_Taft_BridgesBy the 1980s, the four people who, on average, leapt from [the Ellington Bridge’s] stone  balustrades each year accounted for half of all jumping suicides in the nation’s capital. The adjacent Taft [Bridge], by contrast, averaged less than two.
  • [T]hree people leapt from the Ellington in a single 10-day period in 1985. A study conducted five years after the Ellington barrier went up showed that while suicides at the Ellington were eliminated completely, the rate at the Taft barely changed, inching up from 1.7 to 2 deaths per year. …[O]ver the same 5-year span, the total number of jumping suicides in Washington had decreased by 50 percent, or the precise percentage the Ellington once accounted for.

Firearms

  • According to statistics collected by the Injury Control Research Center on nearly 4,000 suicides across the United States, those who had killed themselves with firearms — by far the most lethal and most common method of suicide — had a markedly lower history of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, previous suicide attempts or drug or alcohol abuse than those who died by the least lethal methods; those who ranked the highest for at-risk factors tended to choose those methods with low “success” rates.
  • gunEven though guns account for less than 1 percent of all American suicide attempts, their extreme fatality rate — anywhere from 85 percent and 92 percent, depending on how the statistics are compiled — means that they account for 54 percent of all completions. In 2005, the last year for which statistics are available, [guns] translated into about 17,000 deaths.
  • In a 1985 study of 30 people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds, more than half reported having had suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours, and none of the 30 had written suicide notes.
  • [S]tudies have shown that merely keeping a gun unloaded and storing its ammunition in a different room significantly reduces the odds of that gun being used in a suicide.

Firearms Suicide Parallels Firearms in a Community

  • People with guns…[R]esearch going back 40 years…shows that the incidence of firearm suicide runs in close parallel with the prevalence of firearms in a community.
  • In a 2007 study that grouped the 15 states with the highest rate of gun ownership alongside the six states with the lowest (each group had a population of about 40 million), … when it came to all nonfirearm methods, the two populations committed suicide in nearly equal numbers. The more than three-times-greater prevalence of firearms in the “high gun” states, however, translated into a more than three-times-greater incidence of firearm suicides, which in turn translated into an annual suicide rate nearly double that of the “low gun” states.
  • In the same vein, [a] 2004 study of seven Northeastern states found that the 3.5 times greater rate of gun suicides in Vermont than in New Jersey exactly matched the difference in gun ownership between the two
    states (42 percent of all households in Vermont opposed to 12 percent in New Jersey).
  • From these and other such studies, the Injury Control Research Center has extrapolated that a 10 percent reduction in firearm ownership in the United States would translate into a 2.5 percent reduction in the overall suicide rate, or about 800 fewer deaths a year.

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