May 13, 2008


The Mysteries of the Suicide Tourist: Why the same things that attract millions of happy visitors to New York—the glamour, the skyline, the anonymity—also draw people from around the world to kill themselves here. (Phil Zabriskie, May 11, 2008, New York)

In a sense, New York City is unremarkable when it comes to suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 32,637 people died by suicide in the United States in 2005, the most recent year for which figures exist. It’s the third leading cause of death for Americans ages 15 to 24, the fourth leading cause for Americans 18 to 65. New York State had the country’s third-lowest per capita suicide rate in 2005 (6.2 per 100,000); only New Jersey (6.1) and Washington, D.C., (6) had lower rates. (Montana tops the list, with a rate of 22, followed by several other western states.) Between 1990 and 2004, suicide rates in cities such as Miami, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Pittsburgh dwarfed New York’s, according to a report called “Big Cities Health Inventory 2007” from the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Of the cities included, only Boston, Baltimore, and Washington ranked lower in 2004. Within the city, Manhattan had a rate of 7.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2005, higher than the other boroughs (Brooklyn had the fewest, at 4.64), but lower than many upstate regions.

Recently, however, researchers stumbled on a striking fact about suicides in New York: A surprising number of people who kill themselves in the city come here from out of town, and many appear to come expressly to take their own lives. In a report published last fall called “Suicide Tourism in Manhattan, New York City, 1990–2004,” researchers at the New York Academy of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College found that of the 7,634 people who committed suicide in New York City between 1990 and 2004, 407 of them, or 5.3 percent, were nonresidents. More strikingly, nonresidents accounted for 274, or 10.8 percent, of the 2,272 suicides in Manhattan during that time (the numbers did not include college students, who were considered residents for the purposes of the study). The researchers didn’t look at comparable data from other cities, but, says the study’s lead author, Charles Gross, “One in ten people that commit suicide in Manhattan don’t live here. That’s a big chunk.”

The New York City chief medical examiner’s office won’t release the files it allowed the NYAM researchers to review. But an informal survey of suicides in New York over the past twenty years reveals a bleak tapestry of out-of-towners who took their own lives.

It's all skyscrapers [and cars] are good for and the soul-killing atomization of the urban setting makes for an ideal venue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 13, 2008 4:00 PM

Yea and they probably all got there by train...

Posted by: KRS at May 13, 2008 5:07 PM

Ok, KRS, that made me laugh...

Posted by: Benny at May 13, 2008 6:12 PM

A train from Montana seemingly.

Posted by: Ray Clutts at May 13, 2008 6:37 PM

oj's point might make sense if it was NYers offing themselves, but as it was actually likely small-towners, probably New Englanders depressed at living in the most European part of America, traveling to NY to do it . . .

For those of who've actually spent time as children, and adults with children, in cities, the idea that cities are places where no one knows one's name is, well, laughable. Brooklyn and Chicago, the 2 places where I've spent almost my whole life, are actually collections of small towns, without the stultifying boredom and lack of decent food.

Could be confusing though if one's life was spent in East Orange NJ, upstate NY, Lincoln Park (the Manhattan of Chicago), and Armpit, NH.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 13, 2008 7:03 PM

Cities are magnets for the ill and repellent to the well.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2008 7:48 PM

No one ever kills themself on a train, only outside, on the tracks. You kill yourself in a city.

Posted by: oj at May 13, 2008 7:50 PM

Hope they caught the Rockettes first.

Posted by: jgm at May 13, 2008 9:56 PM

Hope they catch the Rockettes before checking out.

Posted by: jgm at May 13, 2008 9:58 PM

Somebody who wants to commit suicide among cars shouldn't go to a mass-transit town.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at May 13, 2008 11:47 PM

Cities are magnets for the ill and repellent to the well.

Orrin sounds like an 18th Century Romantic. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is on the phone. He says you're stealing his bit.

Posted by: Bryan at May 14, 2008 6:57 AM

Rousseau didn't like cars either.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 14, 2008 8:19 AM

Rousseau didn't like anything.

Posted by: Mikey at May 14, 2008 8:32 AM

I understand that Vegas has a similar situation. (From an emergency med guy I know out there.)

Posted by: ed in texas at May 14, 2008 11:14 AM

Rousseau was a city-dweller, thus his mental disorders.

Posted by: oj at May 14, 2008 11:40 AM

So what's your excuse?

Posted by: Bryan at May 14, 2008 2:15 PM

This is a bi-coastal phenomenon. Some people come to San Francisco for the sole purpose of jumping. See "The Bridge."

Posted by: George at May 14, 2008 4:24 PM

what more excuse do you need than that the city bred rousseauvianism?

Posted by: oj at May 14, 2008 5:21 PM

"Cities are magnets for the ill and repellent to the well."

So said Jean Jacques Rousseau, history's first fascist.

Posted by: atlatl at May 14, 2008 5:26 PM


Mass transit travel by train only makes economic sense in high density population areas like Japan, Europe and America's Northeast Corridor. Which is why you don't see passenger trains too much in Flyover Country.

You can have extensive use of passenger trains only where you have large cities. You can't have one without the other.

Posted by: atlatl at May 14, 2008 5:31 PM

Yes, passenger trains only make sense for feeding the sub and ex urbs into cities for work and entertainment and for interstate travel. No one's going to make you take a train to the grocery store.

Posted by: oj at May 14, 2008 8:31 PM

Rousseau was a Parisian who identified himself as a citizen of Geneva. Fascism and Communism are products of urban intellectuals.

Posted by: oj at May 14, 2008 8:33 PM

If the lines are too long @ NYC, there's no wsiting on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Posted by: Mike at May 14, 2008 10:08 PM