I’ve always found suicide to be a very interesting subject. This article talks about the “hows” of suicide instead of the “whys” that are so often discussed. Really interesting. It makes the obvious but often overlooked point of how illogical people are when they attempt suicide. My favorite passage:
[A man attempting suicide] had picked out a spot on the western promenade that he wanted to jump from, but separated by six lanes of traffic, he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way there.
You might not know that guns are involved in twice as many suicides as homicides and self-inflicted gun wounds are by far the most effective form of suicide. In studying survivors of these attempts, an astonishing 24% of them decided to shoot themselves within 5 minutes of the attempt. They don’t exactly think it through. So it stands to reason that putting time between when someone decides to commit suicide and when they actually do it will help the situation.
Have government run suicide clinics that offer ways to commit suicide not available to the common man like guillotine in public, riding on a missile, and being thrown out of a spaceship with no spacesuit. However, for those who sign up and follow through with suicide, the government will double cross them after they take them into the suicide transport vehicle and force them to eat a pill they are told is cyanide (but is really a strong tranquilizer). Then they will take them to a secret island in the South Pacific where they will be convinced they are in Purgatory and put on television in a show eerily reminiscent of the Truman Show, but there are many more “non-actors” mixed in with the actors. Money from the profits of this show would go into Suicide prevention programs. I’m pretty sure you could get someone bent on committing suicide to sign the forms to make this happen legally. The only question is: who would be against it?
I remember from reading about social proof in this book (the concept that one way we figure out the truth is to find out what other people think is the truth, then believe that) that highly publicized suicides directly lead to more suicides in the society they were publicized in. And the more publicity the suicide gets, the higher the increase in subsequent suicides. This might not be such groundbreaking news to you. I mean, let’s say you’re on the edge of a cliff and you watch somebody else jump. If you were already thinking about jumping, your odds of jumping probably just went up. It’s human nature.
However, if I told you that motor vehicle fatalities increase almost 10% in the week after a highly publicized suicide and commercial plane crashes increase to 11 times normal levels, that may surprise you. It surprised me.
The stats are very specific when it comes to car accidents. Single suicides tend to cause an increase in accidents where only one person dies. Murder-suicides tend to cause an increase in accidents where multiple people die. Copycat suicides can be masked by traffic accidents, the same way a lot of teenage suicides are. And since these accidents are suicide attempts instead of regular accidents, we’d expect accidents after a big suicide story to be deadlier than accidents at other times. And it turns out plane crashes in these scenarios produce 3 times as many deaths, while fatal car accident victims die almost 4 times quicker in these scenarios.
Does this mean you should stay off the roads and out of the friendly skies after a widely publicized suicide or murder suicide? It sure seems like that wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Also, as another lesson in psychology will teach you, people will most readily believe and copy those who are similar to themselves. This also means that people who are most like the suicide victim are most likely to imitate them in copycat suicide attempts. You might want to check up on your 28 year old androgynous actor friends.
I brought this topic up because you might be wondering why you should care about Heath Ledger’s death. If it turns out to be a suicide, you might want to tread lightly for the 10 days after the suicide confirmation leaks, because that’s the time most of these copycat suicides happen. And even though the copycaters won’t have any reason to take you down with them, they might do it inadvertently anyway.