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.

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The Act and Follow-through of Suicide: Part III

Premeditation vs. Passion

Author Scott Anderson in his NYT magazine article, "The Urge to End It All," notes:

Just as with homicide, researchers have long recognized a premeditation-versus-passion dichotomy in suicide.

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The Act and Follow-through of Suicide: Part II

The British Coal-Gas Story

According to Scott Anderson’s NYT article, the little-known British coal-gas story — even among mental health professionals — is a good example of how suicides can be prevented if one takes away the means:

Coal-gas ovenFor generations, the people of Britain heated their homes and fueled their stoves with coal gas. While plentiful and cheap, coal-derived gas could also be deadly; in its unburned form, it released very high levels of carbon monoxide, and an open valve or a leak in a closed space could induce asphyxiation in a matter of minutes. This extreme toxicity also made it a preferred method of suicide. “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.

Those numbers began dropping over the next decade as the British government embarked on a program to phase out coal gas in favor of the much cleaner natural gas. 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.

Experts seems to insist that committing suicide is proof of an underlying mental illness. Suicide that stems from impulsivity, among these experts, is also considered part of a mental illness. Anderson subtly argues against this, and I find myself agreeing with him:

How can this be? After all, if the impulse to suicide is primarily rooted in mental illness and that illness goes untreated, how does merely closing off one means of self-destruction have any lasting effect? At least a partial answer is that many of those Britons who asphyxiated themselves did so impulsively. In a moment of deep despair or rage or sadness, they turned to what was easy and quick and deadly — “the execution chamber in everyone’s kitchen,” as one psychologist described it — and that instrument allowed little time for second thoughts. Remove it, and the process slowed down; it allowed time for the dark passion to pass.

Would this mean that if people had less access to suicidal means that promoted “ease, speed, and certainty of death” (ESCOD), a number of suicides could be averted? It appears so. Anderson continues to make a case using the Ellington Bridge in Northwest Washington as an example:

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