Worldwide decline in suicide rates
November 27, 2018 7:50 AM   Subscribe

“Globally, the [suicide] rate has fallen by 38% from its peak in 1994. As a result, over 4 million lives have been saved—more than four times as many people as were killed in combat over the period.” The Economist reports on the reasons for the worldwide decline in suicide rates.

A less-detailed summary is here.

The news in the United States is less sunny. Suicide rates in the United States have risen, with extremely high rates for white men without a college degree.
(Note that The Economist has a three-article monthly limit.)
posted by ferdydurke (12 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Fizz at 7:53 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I don't know if this was really controversial or anything, but the data from Russia really seems to confirm that the broad trends are largely about socioeconomics. Not always, certainly, but in large part the patterns of suicide follow declining economic prospects.

I'd go further and suggest that suicide probably follows particularly severe economic dislocations, where there is no obvious recovery in sight. The feeling that you are living in a world that is coming apart, or has come apart, and is not going to ever be reassembled; a sort of squatting-in-the-ashes bleakness. It's not hard to see why someone in post-Soviet Russia would have felt that way in the 90s, but I have certainly been to places in the U.S. more recently where I'd be hard-pressed to blame someone for feeling that way, either.

Trying to prevent suicide on an individual level is laudable, and I'm not in any way suggesting otherwise, but if we want to reverse the trend in the U.S., I think we need to take a broader view than just stopping one person at a time from actually pulling the trigger. That's a win, sure, but the fact that people's lives are shitty enough that they're getting to that point is the real horror.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:06 AM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


I'm generally a fan of the Economist's snarky house style, but I thought that the title "Staying Alive" was a bit in poor taste.
posted by Slothrup at 8:49 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


The passages on why suicide among Chinese women has dropped so precipitously suggest that fewer beatings, not better economic conditions, are the cause. There are fewer beatings because in many villages there are three unmarried men for every unmarried women, and women can wait, bargain, and choose.
posted by ckridge at 9:00 AM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


I took exception to the suggestion that the suicide rate drop for young rural women in China may be because their low numbers compared to males have resulted in higher status. It's the other way around. The lower the demographic percentage, the few rights a group will have. The erosion of their rights may be defined as privilege but they still get more and more marginalized. With our current low birth rate children have become so special and privileged that they no longer have freedom of movement. In most North American cities an eight year old child cannot travel alone for ten blocks without being arrested.

I am guessing that if the suicide rate for young rural women in China has dropped it is because they have the option to reduce their demographic percentage still further by becoming young urban women, and abandon untenable marriage or living conditions. On the other hand it appears that the demographic information being released in China is not as accurate as previously believed, what with the recent admissions that hundreds of thousands of girl births were not registered or reported as the parents trying for a boy simply had the girls and left them unregistered. These girls are only getting registered and enumerated as they reach high school age or adulthood. Of course this does not account for anything but a fraction of the difference in the male versus the female birth rate, but i find the information comforting.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:01 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Every time someone dies falling from the bridge, there are calls for extra safety measures - a higher fence, mesh enclosing the bridge, etc. (There's never any money available for this, of course.) But the real issue is why people are getting into a position where they want to die in the first place.

Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date. The mesh over Scammonden Bridge might not solve the problem, but it might solve 90% of it.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Stephen Pinker is going to be insufferable about this.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:48 AM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


One factor not addressed in the piece (among many) is homophobia and transphobia, both of which put LGBTQ people at much higher risk than their straight peers in North America.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:03 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


If we lived in a country where help was available for mental health conditions and addictions, and a social safety net was in place so the loss of eg. a job or a partner wasn't the start of a death spiral, then we would not need to stick a mesh over Scammonden Bridge and pretend the problem was solved

I worked around suicide prevention for a good part of my career and for me the answer is that we do both; the larger changes that need to happen will take a while, so why not deal with the simpler stuff right away? People like to point to ideas like barriers or the like as “band-aid” solutions, but I see nothing wrong with applying a bandage to someone who is bleeding to death. The problem is thinking that the bandage is the full answer to the problem, instead of just one part.
posted by nubs at 12:11 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Trying to prevent suicide on an individual level is laudable, and I'm not in any way suggesting otherwise, but if we want to reverse the trend in the U.S., I think we need to take a broader view than just stopping one person at a time from actually pulling the trigger. That's a win, sure, but the fact that people's lives are shitty enough that they're getting to that point is the real horror.

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one.”

― Loren Eiseley


The Star Thrower.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


As somebody around here either quoted or linked to, 'when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a valid measure'.

And since reported suicide rates are now a matter of national prestige, it's hard to trust them.
posted by jamjam at 1:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


And since reported suicide rates are now a matter of national prestige, it's hard to trust them.

Yeah, I find that pretty insulting to the humanity of everyone who works in fields affected by deaths from suicide.

All suspected suicides get investigated, and they get investigated thoroughly. This is and always has been an important part of being human.
posted by ambrosen at 3:58 PM on November 27, 2018


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