The Urge to End It All
July 7, 2008 11:41 AM   Subscribe

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.
A surprising article about the nature, methods, and deterrence of suicide.
posted by Who_Am_I (68 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Obtaining a Police Department list of all would-be jumpers who were thwarted from leaping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971 — an astonishing 515 individuals in all — he painstakingly culled death-certificate records to see how many had subsequently “completed.” His report, “Where Are They Now?” remains a landmark in the study of suicide, for what he found was that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves.

That's the fact that stood out to me the most. I guess people do change their mind and the "oh they will just do something else" thought is wrong.
posted by lilkeith07 at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2008


Wow. I've always thought the suicide barrier idea was stupid. This article totally changed my mind.
posted by serazin at 12:01 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


That was really a remarkable article. Thanks for posting it, Who_Am_I. I've always subscribed to the "they'll-find-another-way" theory, but I think that article has actually convinced me to change my mind.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2008


Cool. As a person who sometimes has negative self destructive thoughts, I feel much safer, since according to this article I'm a low risk (wussy, not prone to impulsive behaviors).
posted by Phalene at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2008


So when you're depressed, making big complicated plans far in advance is not really very appealing?

The statistics about suicide rates dropping when ovens became less lethal is much more compelling than the ones quoted in this post. The ones in the post just make me wonder if maybe you're more likely to succeed if you plan ahead.
posted by aubilenon at 12:04 PM on July 7, 2008


The Bridge
posted by HotPatatta at 12:05 PM on July 7, 2008


tl:dr. Things to do. Bang.

Yeah it is a pretty long article, but definitely worth it. It addresses suicide, and the mentality behind it, in a way that I don't think a lot of people have previously considered. And let's try to keep the suicide jokes to a minimum.
posted by Who_Am_I at 12:06 PM on July 7, 2008


The statistics about suicide rates dropping when ovens became less lethal is much more compelling than the ones quoted in this post.

I debated using that, and you're right it is really interesting. I used the one that I did because the level of impulsiveness really struck me, and was something I had never even thought possible before. I've always thought of suicide as something that people build up to over the course of a few months, not minutes.
posted by Who_Am_I at 12:16 PM on July 7, 2008


And let's try to keep the suicide jokes to a minimum.

My poor taste has already been boingboinged out of here. Oopsy.
posted by srboisvert at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Related: 2003 article in the New Yorker, "Jumpers."
Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
posted by Miko at 12:26 PM on July 7, 2008 [35 favorites]


I am also astounded at the numbers relating to the barriers. I had no idea they were that effective. The British coal gas stats were new to me also. Interesting article, thanks.
posted by dejah420 at 12:27 PM on July 7, 2008


Kevin Hines is also interviewed in The Bridge.
posted by Weebot at 12:34 PM on July 7, 2008


The study they refer to is in Suicide & Life - Threatening Behavior; New York, Dec 2001; Vol.32; The Houston Case-Control Study of Nearly Lethal Suicide.

The specific study is Characteristics of impulsive suicide attempts and attempters. Thomas R Simon, Alan C Swann, Kenneth E Powell, Lloyd B Potter, et al. Suicide & Life - Threatening Behavior. New York: Dec 2001. Vol. 32 pg. 49.

Part of the article:

--"Involvement in physical fights was the only impulsive behavior studied that was associated with impulsive suicide attempts. Impulsive suicidal behavior and involvement in physical fights differ from the other types of behaviors examined in the amount of aggression associated with the behavior. Perhaps impulsive suicide attempts are more strongly associated with the inability to control aggression-specific impulses than generalized impulsivity. Additional research is needed to replicate these findings with other measures that distinguish between general and aggressive forms of impulsivity."

Also this:

--"Overall, the majority of the attempters scored high on the depression scale. Although impulsive attempts occurred among both depressed and nondepressed attempters, the depressed attempters were significantly less likely to have attempted impulsively. These findings are consistent with the results from other studies of suicide survivors (Brent, 1987; Brown et al., 1991; Williams et al., 1980). Whereas planned suicide attempts often result from chronic mental health problems such as depression, researchers have noted a tendency for impulsive suicide attempts to be immediately preceded by interpersonal conflicts and have suggested that impulsive suicide attempts might be a response to these conflicts rather than an actual desire to die (Kost-Grant, 1983; Smith & Crawford, 1986; Williams et al., 1980). The finding that impulsive attempts are more likely to occur at night may reflect the fact that this is the time when these interpersonal conflicts are most likely to occur. Additional research is necessary to describe the circumstances that facilitate impulsive and nonimpulsive suicide attempts."
posted by cashman at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


My brother tried sleeping pills in a boarded up house. According to a police report he was found the next day trespassing next door in a farmer's field, lying in the grass and staring up at the sky. He appeared to be very embarrassed and the police pressed no charges.

That very night, however, he succeeded a short distance away behind an abandoned motel with a rubber hose on his exhaust pipe, his suicide note edited to reflect the fact that his otherwise spotlessly detailed car would no longer be fit for charity.

He always was, admittedly, unusually driven to finish what he started.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2008


It's probably my field of work (crisis centre), but I didn't find the article all that surprising...but I see other people here did, so that's a good thing.

The coal-gas story is but one example of this type of prevention; in some First Nations communities in Canada, there has been success in preventing suicide by hanging by removing the bars from closets. Both my personal and professional experience speak to the fact that any interruption to a person intending to commit suicide can have dramatic impact.

I see that The Bridge has already been referenced. It is a fantastic movie for those interested in understanding suicide better, although it has many moments that are difficult to watch. One interesting fact about the Golden Gate Bridge - most of the suicides occur on the side facing into the city (the eastern), rather than the west side, which faces the ocean.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2008


I think that including elderly men who live alone as part of the pool of people who are at elevated risk of suicide does those of them who "complete" a substantial dis-service, as well as skewing the suicide rates. In my book, self-deliverance from the ignominy and pain of old age, in the case of someone who retains the capacity to carry out the act in the face of incurable disease or intractable pain, isn't suicide. There comes a point when even a life well lived is no longer worth recalling, or prolonging through a grinding, pitiless process of medically assisted dissolution.

What Hunter S. Thompson did in the last minute of his life wasn't suicide, it was common sense. And it's a sensible, responsible use of a firearm, too, if you're in the position he was, by my lights.
posted by paulsc at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


"into the city..."

The interesting thing about this to me, is on the north/West side, where there is fencing up, there are no suicides. Sure, its not as glamorous as mid-span facing the city, but there are some other suicides on dirt, just none up there.

I too wasnt in favor of suicide barriers. Now, even just reading what many of the bridge employees have to go through, if only for them we should erect something so they dont have to deal with this much death.
posted by subaruwrx at 12:53 PM on July 7, 2008


Great article. Interesting reading. Thanks for posting.

Having worked on a suicide hotline I agree that any interruption to the process can end up preventing the attempt.
posted by pixlboi at 12:53 PM on July 7, 2008


The point about having spiritual pain, and looking for a physical way to cure it, really resonated with me. When you aren't thinking clearly, because you are in emotional and spiritual pain, you just want it to stop.
If you're given time to find another way out, you can make it stop, but without killing yourself. It makes sense to me.
posted by sandraregina at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


On a related note, research has found that people who should be depressed - quadriplegics for example - actually report being more happy than they were before. I can't remember the reason but I think it has something to do with the brains ability to rationlize adversity - we may "lose" in a competition, but rationalize to ourselves in some way to be perfectly happy with the outcome, in fact prefer the outcome. Even the worst case holocaust survivors often go on to lead happy lives. The connection with suicide: no matter how bad it seems, the brain has the ability to instantly turn it around - maybe it takes hurtling off a bridge for that shift to happen. Shock therapy might be an equivalent. Break out of the trance and see things how they could be.
posted by stbalbach at 12:59 PM on July 7, 2008


paulsc writes "In my book, self-deliverance from the ignominy and pain of old age, in the case of someone who retains the capacity to carry out the act in the face of incurable disease or intractable pain, isn't suicide."

Exactly.

Now if there was a way we could help people end their lives with dignity, and simultaneously deal with the food shortage...
posted by mullingitover at 1:03 PM on July 7, 2008


including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes.

I actually wasn't all that surprised by this. When I was younger, I'd go into some fairly black moods and had I been in a high place with no barrier at the right time, I could have seen myself just stepping off the edge. No warning, no real forethought, just an effort to make whatever was bothering me stop.

Thankfully, as I've gotten older, I've developed somewhat stronger impulse control and much better strategies for dealing with that darkness.
posted by quin at 1:12 PM on July 7, 2008


I don't consider myself even remotely suicidal, but when I'm around high, dramatic drops (GG Bridge, Hoover dam [oh, Hoover Dam!]) or deep water, I really want to jump. I'm even moderately afraid of heights, but there is just an unnatural attraction there. Oddly enough, it's not the jump, nor the death that attracts me, but the finality of the decision - there's no calling 911 after the overdose when you jump off of a bridge. Jumping to your death is one of the most decisive things you can do. I've spoken to others who feel the same way. It doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination for me to understand how someone could just decide to jump. At least you get to pick the way you go.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:15 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


...and yes, I'm extremely impulsive - but obviously not quite impulsive enough.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:19 PM on July 7, 2008


The Bridge is available on Google video, in case you were curious.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:22 PM on July 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


The Light Fantastic: I have the same feeling with great heights. I tell people my fear of heights stems from the urge to jump. It just seems so easy.

Freaks me out.
posted by Korou at 1:25 PM on July 7, 2008


That very night, however, he succeeded a short distance away behind an abandoned motel with a rubber hose on his exhaust pipe, his suicide note edited to reflect the fact that his otherwise spotlessly detailed car would no longer be fit for charity.

Oh, I was OK until I read that. I've had the distinct displeasure to read several suicide notes and in each one there has been one little detail like this, one little thing that the author has focused on that brings the loss home in such a surreal, disjointed way. CynicalKnight, I'm so sorry about your brother.
posted by lysistrata at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2008


Me too, Light Fantastic, and I'm a phenomenally optimistic person that generally couldn't be happier with how things are going. For me it's a "wow, I really could do that, huh? What would that be like?" feeling more than any desire to self-eradicate.
posted by Shepherd at 1:44 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


For me it's a "wow, I really could do that, huh? What would that be like?" feeling more than any desire to self-eradicate.

I was just having this conversation with someone the other day. He finds himself sorely tempted in those situations. I asked him if it was the death or the drop and he assured me it was the drop. "So why not sky dive?" I asked. Oh no, he said. He's afraid of heights.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:48 PM on July 7, 2008


It's not really a cognitive dissonance. The thought of dying is so sweetly alluring, but the poison pill of hope rots away inside me, that little voice that thinks "Well, maybe things will get better" when all experience hath shewn that it won't. However, the thought of another attempt leaving me crippled, or brain damaged, and vastly worse off that before... christ, the point is to end pain, not to increase it.

So jumping off the GG bridge and dying almost immediately = good, running through 6 lanes of traffic and spending your life in a wheelchair = bad. It actually makes perfect sense, really.
posted by hincandenza at 1:54 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a mental tic, you know. The urge to act. When you see a hammer, you feel a need to pick it up and hit something. A knife, to cut. A gun, to fire it. I stay away from precipices not because I'm afraid of falling, but because I'm afraid of jumping.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:57 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's a mental tic, you know. The urge to act. When you see a hammer, you feel a need to pick it up and hit something. A knife, to cut. A gun, to fire it. I stay away from precipices not because I'm afraid of falling, but because I'm afraid of jumping.

I get this urge around trains. I'm not the least bit suicidal yet whenever I am near the tracks and a train is about to pass there is one tiny part of my brain wondering what it would be like to simply step in front of it. Same thing when I'm driving over a bridge. What if I just turned the wheel and drove right off?
posted by lysistrata at 2:00 PM on July 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


in 2005, approximately 32,000 Americans committed suicide, or nearly twice the number of those killed by homicide.

The thesis of this article, and this fact in particular, make a hell of an argument for a mandatory waiting period on any gun purchase.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


I was following the article until this part:

Put simply, those methods that require forethought or exertion on the actor’s part (taking an overdose of pills, say, or cutting your wrists), and thus most strongly suggest premeditation, happen to be the methods with the least chance of “success.” Conversely, those methods that require the least effort or planning (shooting yourself, jumping from a precipice) happen to be the deadliest.

I don't understand how shooting oneself can be considered an act that "require[s] the least effort or planning" and slitting one's wrists can be considered an act of "premeditation".
In comparison, they belong in the opposite categories. It is much, much easier and, therefore, "impulsive" to find a sharp object (or even a bottle of pills) than it is to find a gun.

Doesn't this somewhat negate their argument that premeditated acts are less safe?
posted by chara at 2:21 PM on July 7, 2008


This was debated on the Blue once. That is, the feasibility and sense of a suicide barrier on the GG. I was somewhat surprised at the level of resistance to it given the research into the sheer impulsivity of suicide. Watching the Bridge clearly shows this as well. It's just not a topic most people feel is worth addressing, I guess, since most people feel like it isn't germane to them personally.
posted by docpops at 2:31 PM on July 7, 2008


I get this urge around trains. I'm not the least bit suicidal yet whenever I am near the tracks and a train is about to pass there is one tiny part of my brain wondering what it would be like to simply step in front of it.

Oh yeah - trains too! Although I was almost hit by a train once, and it was pretty dang scary. When I'm at BART (our light rail system in the San Francisco Bay Area) I often feel that slight urge to step in front of the train.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:35 PM on July 7, 2008


I was somewhat surprised at the level of resistance to it...It's just not a topic most people feel is worth addressing, I guess, since most people feel like it isn't germane to them personally.

Or, perhaps, deep-down, people feel that it's their life with which to do as they wish, including ending it.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:38 PM on July 7, 2008


chara: With the wrists it's the effort, not the premeditation. Cutting your wrists deep hurts and isn't easy. You also have to wait a while and fight the instinct to compress the pain; witness the large number of people with wrist scars. Most people would have to go the the doctor's to get a full bottle of sleeping pills.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:45 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have the same feeling with great heights. I tell people my fear of heights stems from the urge to jump. It just seems so easy.

Edgar Allan Poe called that The Imp Of The Perverse. If you've ever been driving along and had a sudden, irrational (as opposed, I guess, to rational) urge or desire to just accelerate directly into a tree, you know the Imp. Link 1. Link 2.

About a year ago I separated from my wife. Or maybe she separated from me, I forget. I was always prone to depression and my sinking back into it is what exacerbated the situation, causing our split. I don't blame her as, over the space of a couple of years, I had become increasingly isolationist and antisocial, barely able to speak with her, not because I didn't love her, but because I was afraid of what I would end up saying: "I thought you'd fixed me, but I was wrong." I started drinking heavily, gained a lot of weight, stopped caring about my appearance, and would spend days, weeks at a time just locked away in my room. We moved from Melbourne to Brisbane (to be closer to our families) and tried to have a child but in hindsight, these were just improvised bandages to staunch the flow of affection from our partnership.

So even though the separation was inevitable, pretty much mapped out in flashing halogen lights with a soft computerised voiceover giving me directions, it was still something of a system shock when it finally occurred. Naturally I broke down and started self-mutilating (another thing I always used before I met her), but this time I sensed it was a little more serious. The injuries were more violent and more frequent and were moving closer and closer to the veins in my wrists. Walking along, my mind slumped over in more gin and valium than anybody should ever strictly need, it was blissful conjecture to imagine hurling myself beneath a bus, or taking a lift to the top floor and getting a good run-up, or simply threatening a police officer with a knife until he shot me in the head. One of the “highlights” was me, drunk, putting my arm in the thrashing circuit of a whipper-snipper and having it flay flesh from my arm. And when, during one session of self-destruction, I actually crushed the radial nerve in my left arm, paralysing my hand for about two months, I realised something was very, very wrong with me.

The problem with suicide is that when you want to do it, when you feel like you need it, it’s all you can ever think about. Everything becomes a possibility and you start researching fatality rates and every object, every environment, you’re looking around figuring on the probability of a relatively quickly, relatively painless exit. I decided on something with minimal mess and minimal fuss and had my note prepared and what few affairs I had in order.

But, and I told this to my psychologist sister-in-law some months ago, it turns out I just didn’t have the guts for it. I couldn’t bear the thought of my elderly widowed mother (dad died of Parkinson's just before 9/11) having to identify my bloated, rotten corpse and I couldn’t bear the thought of my ex-wife going the rest of her life believing she had been the cause of it. And when these doubts – and yes, they were doubts, because I was so sure I was on the right path – started invading, they quickly multiplied, grew roots. I began thinking about stories I hadn’t written yet, books I hadn’t read, movies I hadn’t seen, people I hadn’t met. And I started thinking that, well, yeah, life is pretty much a pile of shit from the moment you’re spat forth screaming into light to the moment you hit the dirt but there are a few gems in there if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and even though (I believe) there’s no god, life is still a pretty neat gift because the odds are stacked almost infinitely against you even while you’re still brewing in your daddy’s balls (sorry to be crude), and if the choice is between being a selfish asshole in life and a selfish asshole in death, well, maybe I should stick with life for a little while. There’s girls to make out with and concerts to go to and buddies to drink with and people to argue with and stupid opinions to hold and vomit up at the slightest provocation and, yes, even though for the most part things are pretty rubbish, there’s some fun to be had and, fuck it, why not?
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:00 PM on July 7, 2008 [43 favorites]


Most suicide attempts fail because they're spur of the moment. Back when I was fifteen I tried to kill myself twice. The first time I failed because I had no idea how difficult it is to effectively cut through an artery with a craft knife. (Actually, wrist cutting is a rather ineffective method). The second time, I failed because I didn't know how to put a car into a neutral gear. If I'd had access to a gun I'd definitely be dead. I haven't tried since then, but a few times I've got as far as writing a suicide note (this, of course, forces you to consider the consequences of your planned action and the emptiness of your apologies, which is why I didn't get any further).

I've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I'm in a high risk group, although presumably this is lower since I started getting effective treatment. In the decade since my attempts I've done plenty of research. This has its good side: I won't hurt myself in a futile attempt. It's also bad, because it means if I did try again, I'd probably be successful. Mind you, I've got pretty good at not paying attention to those kinds of impulses when I'm in a deep depression. Somehow the idea that I'm prepared to escape this life if I really need to makes it easier not to actually do so. Kind of like how it's easier to deal with pain that you know you can stop, than it is to deal with pain that you can't. Suicide's a dangerous companion, but it is a companion.

I'm not sure if I have a point. If I did, I guess it would be that people's relationship with suicide is way more complicated than the article seems to suggest. Mine certainly is.
posted by xchmp at 3:04 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


most of the suicides occur on the side facing into the city (the eastern), rather than the west side, which faces the ocean

The west side is also bicycles-only.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:06 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how shooting oneself can be considered an act that "require[s] the least effort or planning" and slitting one's wrists can be considered an act of "premeditation".

Perhaps because when you slit your wrists you have to sit and wait until you die? Shooting yourself is pretty instantaneous (if you do it right), but slitting your wrists has a wait time between the act and falling unconscious. I've never seriously been in the position, but I would think there's some amount of planning/premeditation about what you do while you're waiting.
posted by lilac girl at 3:10 PM on July 7, 2008


turgid dahlia, thanks for what you wrote. i just cut-and-pasted part of it into my own anti-note -- a thing i look at when i'm feeling really low and really want to die.

reading other peoples' joys and rapture at being alive, when one doesn't particularly want to be alive, isn't very helpful. reading words written by someone who obviously knows the pain i've felt, and has managed to learn how to deal with it...well, it does help. so, thanks.
posted by CitizenD at 3:14 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey CitizenD, happy to be of what small service I can. I just hope you didn't cut-and-paste the part with the embarrassing spelling error!
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:30 PM on July 7, 2008


When I was in university I swallowed three boxes' worth of over-the-counter sleeping pills before I went to bed one night. This was after suffering through years of (undiagnosed - I was fairly good at hiding the worst of it) fairly severe depression; I'd gotten tired of waiting for things to get better, and had pretty much given up hope that they ever would. I say "pretty much" because the psychiatrist I saw afterwards (I woke up the next morning stoned out of my head and some friends took me to the emergency room when it was clear that something was wrong with me) explained to me that there are two types of suicide attempts (maybe there are more than two, but these are the two I remember him talking about); cries for help disguised as suicide attempts (i.e. me), and people who are really determined to check out.
posted by you just lost the game at 3:32 PM on July 7, 2008


I should have added that to this day I still struggle with depression, but on its worst day it's not as bad as it used to be, and it chills my heart when I think about all the great shit I would have missed out on if I'd died that night 20 years ago. And the memory of my mom crying on the telephone when I told her about the attempt (well after the fact; I was away at school, and since I was of age the school and hospital did not have to inform them) still makes me cry to this day.
posted by you just lost the game at 3:36 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


"most of the suicides occur on the side facing into the city (the eastern), rather than the west side, which faces the ocean"

And until quite recently, the west side was closed to all pedestrian and bike traffic.
posted by rtha at 4:25 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I expect to take some umbrage here, but I'm not trying to be snarky.

Why are suicides classified as victims? Is this due to police/medical codes, or is this more recent developement as we've become more sympathatic (generous) or politically correct (cynical)?

Nonetheless, this is a great thread, and I appreciate the article, Who_I_am.
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2008


I get this urge around trains. I'm not the least bit suicidal yet whenever I am near the tracks and a train is about to pass there is one tiny part of my brain wondering what it would be like to simply step in front of it. Same thing when I'm driving over a bridge. What if I just turned the wheel and drove right off?

Well, I'm glad I'm not *that* abnormal.

Is there a name for this? It's certainly not suicidal thoughts, and "imp of the perverse" doesn't seem to cut it. But it's right alongside the aforementioned "if you have a hammer, look for things to smash" feeling - not in the "all problems look alike" sense, but just... because. Because you can. Because it'd be so easy...

All of a sudden, I think I completely understand how stories of possession and Satanic influence happen.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:41 PM on July 7, 2008


Maybe "reckless curiosity"?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:44 PM on July 7, 2008


Thorzdad: Or, perhaps, deep-down, people feel that it's their life with which to do as they wish, including ending it.

Yeah but that argument is pretty disingenuous. If you believe (despite the statistics) as most barrier opponents claim to believe--that nothing will really prevent someone who really wants to kill themselves from doing so--you shouldn't be opposed to a barrier. Because they will go kill themselves elsewhere. No one's prevented from doing what they want with their lives, just somewhat inconvenienced. They'll just go to the Bay Bridge instead.

What's left is the real reason people don't want a barrier up. It spoils the view. But that's just slightly too obscene to admit in polite company.
posted by danny the boy at 5:09 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


from the article: On the flip side, those who ranked the highest for at-risk factors tended to choose those methods with low “success” rates.

Which answers my longtime question--if we've always had suicidal tendencies in our species, wouldn't the problem have, well, solved itself? That is, those traits would have been selected out pretty quickly?

This makes sense to me... that the people who impulsively, successfully, kill themselves are not the ones who really want to die...
posted by danny the boy at 5:16 PM on July 7, 2008


Why are suicides classified as victims? Is this due to police/medical codes, or is this more recent developement as we've become more sympathatic (generous) or politically correct (cynical)?

Not all suicides are regarded as victims. Terminally ill people who choose assisted suicide aren't usually thought of as victims of suicide. Nor are those who commit suicide as an act of protest. The obvious example would be Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself to protest the Vietnamese government's discrimination against Buddhists.

Most suicides aren't like these, though. They're the result of mental illness. They're acts of desperation. People who commit suicide are victims in the same sense as other people are victims of cancer. And just like people with epilepsy are no longer considered to be possessed by demons, our ideas of suicide and mental illness have progressed beyond the idea that it's a moral failing.

Even the Catholic church no longer regards suicide as always being a mortal sin, recognising that "Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide."
posted by xchmp at 5:17 PM on July 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Coincidentally, today's Washington Post has an article on the correlation between gun ownership and suicide rates. A small excerpt: "If you bought a gun today, I could tell you the risk of suicide to you and your family members is going to be two- to tenfold higher over the next 20 years," Harvard's Miller said. "There are not many things you can do to increase your risk of dying tenfold." Read the article here:
Packing Protection or Packing Suicide Risk?
posted by gudrun at 5:27 PM on July 7, 2008


The previous fpp about who commits suicide at the GG bridge is interesting. Includes contentious discussion about barrier vs no barrier.
posted by rtha at 5:42 PM on July 7, 2008


Ironic post in light of this slightly older one about writer Thomas Disch's suicide on July 4. :-(
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:46 PM on July 7, 2008


Is there a name for this? It's certainly not suicidal thoughts, and "imp of the perverse" doesn't seem to cut it. But it's right alongside the aforementioned "if you have a hammer, look for things to smash" feeling - not in the "all problems look alike" sense, but just... because. Because you can. Because it'd be so easy...

See this AskMe thread. I remember someone suggested a French expression that has really stayed with me: l'appel du vide. The call of the void. As for an English equivalent, either the Imp of the Perverse, or a new expression coined by French Fry: the crazy sparkle!
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:05 PM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm scared of unbarriered heights. A string on a star picket fence is fine; without that string, the urge to jump is almost overwhelming.

I just wonder what it would be like to fly free ...
posted by ysabet at 7:10 PM on July 7, 2008


I walk over either the Taft or Ellington bridge literally every single day, and have always had the same thought - "Why only barrier one?" and can honestly say I would never have predicted the results they saw.

Wow. Hell of an article, thanks for sharing.
posted by zap rowsdower at 9:21 PM on July 7, 2008


The reason most people jump off the GG bridge facing the city is because that is side open for pedestrians. The ocean facing side is only open for bikes and only on the weekends. How do I link to another comment?
posted by pianomover at 9:54 PM on July 7, 2008


pianomover: I think you just hyperlink the timestamp from the comment in question.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:01 PM on July 7, 2008


A biological basis for the Imp of the Perverse, as discussed recently.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:37 PM on July 7, 2008


Impulsive or mental illness related suicide is quite different from the well-planned suicide such as paulsc mentions above. The right of such a person to choose to exit life is something I will support.

The concern comes when people make a mistaken choice; and the key is to determine how to identify preventative measures for this scenario while not denying the right of others to make an informed choice.
posted by mightshould at 6:48 AM on July 8, 2008


The last time I felt a serious urge to kill myself, I was frustrated by not being able to find my glasses to read the labels on the pill bottles. By the time I'd fully engaged in the tantrum usually associated with this particular loss, the need to end it all had mutated back into a more manageable discontent.

Turgid Dahlia, you rock. Please continue to do so.
posted by firstdrop at 2:11 PM on July 8, 2008


turgid dahlia: Edgar Allan Poe called that The Imp Of The Perverse.

To cite a far less literate source, Jim Carrey did a whole routine on it pre-fame. "Ah, ah, ah! Turning the car into oncoming traffic ... is counterproductive!" Rather funny, actually.
posted by WCityMike at 1:38 PM on July 9, 2008


You guys are missing the best one of all: Walken.
posted by Who_Am_I at 4:25 PM on July 9, 2008


Walken also (though it's a switcheroo here)
posted by Burhanistan at 10:04 PM on July 9, 2008




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