November 11, 2018


In Suicide Prevention, It's Method, Not Madness (The Bryant Park Project), 7/08/08, NPR)

The rate of suicide in America is 11 victims per 100,000 people.

That's almost exactly the same as it was in 1965. In spite of the rise of anti-depressant drugs, crisis hotline centers, and better treatment of mental illness, we still haven't gotten much closer to understanding or preventing suicide.

The reason for that might be that prevention focuses more on the study of illness than it does on the actual ways people attempt to kill themselves, says Scott Anderson, the author of a New York Times Magazine article, "The Urge to End It All."

In effect, it's the method, not the madness.

Anderson says that suicide is an overwhelmingly impulsive act. He cites a study of survivors that said only 13 percent reported thinking about committing suicide for eight hours or longer; 70 percent said they thought about it for less than an hour; and a whopping 24 percent said the idea had occurred to them less than five minutes before their attempt.

If that's true, then suicide is highly opportunistic, and Anderson suggests that reducing the opportunities would reduce the incidence. He says that research and anecdotal evidence appear to bear this out. For example, he notes in his magazine piece that states in which gun ownership are highest have the highest rates of suicide by gun; in fact, the higher rates of gun ownership closely track the higher rates of gun suicides by state. Yet suicide rates by other means remain roughly similar.

Anderson points to another example where simply making a change in people's access to instruments of suicide dramatically lowered the suicide rate. In England, death by asphyxiation from breathing oven fumes had accounted for roughly half of all suicides up until the 1970s, when Britain began converting ovens from coal gas, which contains lots of carbon monoxide, to natural gas, which has almost none. During that time, suicides plummeted roughly 30 percent -- and the numbers haven't changed since.

Guns and suicide: A fatal link (Karin Kiewra, Spring 2008, HSPH)

In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. Perhaps the real tragedy behind suicide deaths--about 30,000 a year, one for every 45 attempts--is that so many could be prevented. Research shows that whether attempters live or die depends in large part on the ready availability of highly lethal means, especially firearms.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of all 50 U.S. states reveals a powerful link between rates of firearm ownership and suicides. Based on a survey of American households conducted in 2002, HSPH Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management Matthew Miller, Research Associate Deborah Azrael, and colleagues at the School's Injury Control Research Center (ICRC), found that in states where guns were prevalent--as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns--rates of suicide were higher. The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.

Posted by at November 11, 2018 8:36 AM