« Freakonomics Radio

40. The Suicide Paradox (Rebroadcast)

2013-09-05 | 🔗
There are more than twice as many suicides as murders in the U.S., but suicide attracts far less scrutiny. Freakonomics Radio digs through the numbers and finds all kinds of surprises.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This podcast dynamically inserts audio advertisements of varying lengths for each download. As a result, the transcription time indexes may be inaccurate.
An original. Can you look back to when he met the one you loved him, remember exactly how it was peering through me so brothers, he joined the army Tom and I had this boy's sub sometimes have already seen everything it can happen and it's a nightmare. Sherry radar now streamline Apple TV plus. Fr Economics, radio sponsored by discover earning cash back on your purchases is great, but Discover will do you one better at the end, Your first year discover will actually match all the cash back you ve earned on your credit card birthright.
discover matches all the cash back you earn on your credit card at the end of your first year. This is especially amazing because Discover is accepted at ninety nine percent of places. In the? U S, the take credit cards learn more at discover: dot com, slash, yes, twenty twenty one, Nilsen report limitations applying a word for college professor, but I can say to our class. I vow icy checkup, bigger tongue tied by, and that just means my name is how I see that's my Peter her name and I make a lot of marks on paper than ever. It is a college prevent, a linguist, often on for the past thirty years, he's lived with it, drive in the Amazon called the Peter, originally went to the Peter her as a missionary to translate the Bible into their language, but the course of many years. They wandered
converting me and I became a scientist instead and the study, their culture and its effect. On their language. The Peter Ha Livin Huts sleep on the ground, with bows and arrows, but what really caught every attention is that they are relentlessly happened, really happy. this happiness and discontent. Lenders is really had a lot to do with me. Leave abandoning my religious. Those are my religion altogether because they seem to have a lot more together than most religious people. I know. but this isn't just another story about some far away tribe. It's really happy, even though they don't have all the stuff. We have it's a story something that happened during ever its early days with the tribe he and his wife and their three young kids had just finished dinner. Ever it gathered about thirty p d ha in his hut to preach to them.
I was still a very fervent christian missionary and I wanted to tell them how God had changed my life, so I told them a story about my stepmother and how she had committed suicide because she was so depressed and so lost for the word depressed I use the word said so she was very sad. She was crying she. Lost an and she shot herself in the head and and she died, and this had a large spiritual impact on me and I later became a missionary and came to the p d ha because of all of this experience triggered I her suicide and I told this story is tenderly ass. I could and and try to communicate that it had a huge pact on me and when I was finished, everyone burst laughing up
from w, and I see this is for economics radio. Today, the sewers paradox. Here's your house, Stephen Definite already, so damn ever was sharing this sad intimate story about a stepmother suicide with the PETA. When I asked Why are you laughing? They said she killed herself, that's really funny to us. We don't kill ourselves, you mean you, people, you white people shoot yourselves in the head. We shoot animals, we kill animals, we don't kill ourselves. They just found that absolutely inexplicable and without precedent and their own experience that someone, kill themselves in the thirty years that ever has been studying the PETA there have been zero suicides,
isn't that suicide doesn't happen in the Amazon for other tribes. It's a problem and, as I have told this story, some people have suggested that well it's because they don't have the stresses of modern life, but that's just not true. Almost one hundred percent endemic malaria among the people, their sick, a lot their children die at that probably seventy five percent. Seventy five percent of the children dying before they reach the age of five or six. These are astounding. pressure is a group of people that laughs at suicide, it doesn't sound It's like the! U S does is managing change and again today, suicides novel laughing matter here and it's not a rare either now compared
the rest of the world. Our suicide rate puts us read about in the middle, but here's what interesting, the? U S is famous. A relatively high murder rate, its double triple even further five times higher than most other developed countries. So if I said to you, what's more common in the: U S, homicide or suicide, would you say: listen Steve limit my free, I'm a friend and co author and economists at universities, Chicago he's, been studying crime. For years, a homicide per one hundred thousand have fallen from something like ten something like five over the fifteen years. At fifty grams of, essentially, homicide is fallen in half. Well so let's say roughly five per hundred thousand people, now give any idea what the suicide rate is twice as high buttons because it didn't used to make the newspaper. When someone comments,
beside, but it always makes any payment someone. Canada has homicide, but twice as many suicides of them said it is surprising as net, the preliminary numbers for two thousand nine most recent years, which we have data, show there were roughly thirty six thousand five hundred suicides in the? U S and roughly sixteen thousand five hundred homicides that will overtake too many suicide? So why don't we hear more about it without a line that partly because as as Levitt says, most suicides don't make the news, whereas murders Reggie NEWS tonight out of Jackson, where police round the scene of apparent, murdered and apparent double homicide. Its latest murder, charged with murder the attempted murder of ours to re murder, but also their different types of tragedy. Murder, represents a fractured promise within our social contract and It's got an obvious villain. Suicide represents what does it represents hard to say,
carry such a strong taboo. That most of us just don't discuss it much. There dull, does that there are far more questions about suicide than answers like do we do enough to prevent it? How do you prevented the biggest question of all? Why do people commit suicide? Steve Levitt has one more question hosting myself: putting more people commit suicide. If you think about the poorest people in the world, surviving on less than a dollar a day, having two to walk three miles water and carry seventy pound packs of water back just to survive, and those people do everything they can to stay alive, whereas I think, if I were in that situation, would not just kill myself. What is it to say to you about Cuba,
ensure that people in situations way way way way way way worse off than you don't kill themselves in large number. My guess is that evolution has been into us. An unbelievable desire to stay alive which, which looked at from modern perspective, doesn't actually make them much sense. So how should we make sense of suicide if you personally have been affected by suicide, if you ve lost a friend or a family member, maybe hard, even think about making sense of it? but at the risk of shining light into darkness, that's usually lift undisturbed. Let's give it a try. The first thing we It is a virgil of some sort to guide us. Someone has been thinking about suicide and death, For a long long time- was born in nineteen. Forty two. I lived in London for twenty two years of my life and for the first,
Three years of my life, my mother told me, we slept in an air raid shelter every night. David Lester is a professor of psychology at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey about twenty minutes from Atlantic City. The classic bomb came who go to buzz bomb as it was buzzing that men, the engine was going once it stopped buzzing amended, withdraw, maybe Your house. another says that even as a toddler I was it concerned about them and she said that I would hear them before the air raid warnings went off and I would wish everybody above moment. I would rush into the air raid shelter. Ten years ago I remembered this picture of this little whose very worried about buzz bombs and hiding from them probably without immature concept of death, but obvious perhaps laying the seeds of some interest that manifested itself later in life. I become a Senate
I was just in general, and the suicide ecologist in particular Lester is President elect of the American Association of Suicide ology. the eminence Greece of suicide studies he's alarmingly prolific, he's written more than twenty five hundred papers, notes and books about half of which were on suicide. So people expect him to know things that he says are not yet known: First of all, I am expected to know the answers to questions such as wiping Called themselves, and myself My friends, we often women, taxing at the. We really don't have a good idea of why people kill themselves. So what We know about suicide. You drill down into the numbers. One thing that strikes you are the massive disparities, the difference,
in suicide rates by gender, by race and age, by location, by method and many other variables in the. U S, for instance, men are about four times is likely to kill themselves a youth about three to four years about. Fifty six percent of men use a gun compared to just thirty percent of women Men tend to use what we would call more active methods that helps explained the you're gaps and suicide by guns, usually success. The primary for women is technically called poisoning some kind of overdose the easy access medications. These days makes medications unimportant method. For me, and women being unmarried widowed were divorced, increases the risk Most typical american suicide is a man, seventy five or older, but in that age bracket, where a lot of people are dying from a lot of things, suicide isn't even a top ten.
Cause of death for people from ages. Twenty five to thirty four suicide is the second leading cause of death and it's in the. five for all Americans from ages, fifteen to fifty four in terms of timing, suicide peaks On Mondays, there is a blue Monday effect, but not as many people suspect around Christmas and new year, people do not kill themselves more on national holidays, there, a seasonal spike. But it's not in the long dark days of winter facts here, a great speaking the spring in most countries? It's as if expect, things are gonna be bathroom when they turn out not to be better you more Lahti. Be depressed in a suicidal David Lester is To entertain any theory to examine any patter interesting way,
he's found that suicide in homicide are often perfectly out of sync with each other. Homicide, spikes, not on Mondays, but on the weekends, and national holidays during the summer. In winter, Hamas, It is also much more common in cities than in rural areas, for suicide is the opposite the american suicide belts comprised of about ten west states a sort of wide. institutional swath, running from Idaho in Montana, down to Arizona and Mexico. That's Matt Ray. a sociologist, a Temple who studies, but here I want him to say it not me. To sum up. What I do and word would be to say that I study losers, and I'm in didn't those who lose Out and societal gains and out on opportunities and We have say I'm interested in inequalities and stratification. Re found what he
is taken to calling the suicide belt. Oh, yes, the Intermountain West is a place that is disproportionately populated by middle age and ageing, white man, single unattached, often unemployed, with access to guns. This may turn out to be a very powerful explanation and explain a lot of the variance that that we observe its backed up by the fact that the one state is on a par with what we see in these suicide belt is Alaska all right! So now you can get a picture of the american whose most likely to kill himself and older white male who owns a gun, probably unmet. aid may be unemployed. living somewhere out West, probably in a rural area, now Don't you want to know where aren't people killings, so I'm standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial why
Kington DC our nations cap. Got the lowest suicide rate of any american city, just six per one hundred thousand people, we in Berlin Williams, there to ask strangers couple of strange Do you know any one that committed suicide? Personally, no no only one at that of homicide. Yes, yes, I've gotta, has been murdered I've got cosmos has promoted a problem in two weeks in the base year. Until you one person. I know this medicine as we told you earlier there more than twice as many suicides each year in the U S is there are homicides. There are just three places with a homicide rate is higher than the suicide rate Louisiana, Maryland and the District of Columbia. It's not a coincidence that these are also places with large african amount,
populations African Americans are only about half is likely to kill themselves as waits when Mr murder, meanwhile, african airlines are nearly six times more likely than whites to die in our community. It's different! We Low wages, suicide in high rates of homicide, why do you think that is, I think, Lot of those homicides are probably suicides. Dunbar works at the suicide Prevention Centre and Howard University is very easy. When you stressed and you dont want live anymore. To put yourself in harm's way in somebody will take you out in many times we will Journalize, our frustration and meaning that would take me going to take it out on other people, and then you might have more folks, maybe from the dominant culture who internalize your frustration to take it out on them
We have been socialized to believe that a lot of our disadvantages are based on our surroundings. Racism, discrimination and all of their souls really easy for us when we become frustrating to look at what's going on around us to take it out on the environment and other people rather than ourselves I asked David Lester if he had an explanation for the black White suicide gap. If your white and in psychological pain, What can you blame it on its like other, people are doing well. Why aren't you doing? Well? Other people are happy. Why aren't you happy? so maybe that import accounts for the higher suicide rate in White says compared African Americans, because whites have fewer external causes to blame. The misery for.
I find this idea fascinating, as lesters quick to point out, it is little more than a year has pretty much impossible to prove. The fact is we usually don't know much about what's going through a person's mind as they consider suicide, but when you're late as misery when it seems beyond redemption or repair we're, do you put the blame? blame other people. You can blame yourself. What, if you could blame song is places where suicide is epidemic in how gets that now.
from W N Y see this is for economics, radio, here's, your host Stephen Governor as we said earlier there about thirty six thousand five hundred suicides a year in the? U S at an average of a hundred a day, the vast vast majority of them you never hear about. They don't make the news. That's not an accident, For decades, sociologists have been studying the media's impact on suicide rates. In some say, they have proven that a why we publicize suicide when described in. Certain way can lead to copycat suicides, a suicide contagion. Here's reporter Sean coal all right we're going to have to go all the way back to one thousand seven hundred and seventy four. When this novel came out the sorrows of young better by Johann Wolfgang Phone Gerda me forth. How happy I am that I am gone my dear forever, If you have never read it might never read it
the sorrows of younger was written mostly as a series of fictional letters by a young dilettante artist named bear tat. He travels to the countryside, thousands with a girl whose already engaged with despairs and then borrows two pistols from her fiance. They are loaded the clock struck. Twelve, I see, amen Shore Lotta shore lotta, farewell farewell sorry, despoiling ending now this book was really popular when it came out. Scholars talk about legions of men in Europe, dressing like the character in blue, swallow tail coats and canary, yellow pants, and while this next part is probably apocryphal the store is that many people who read the book killed themselves by the same method sometimes even kill themselves with it. But the book open to the page where he was described is killing himself David. Philips is a sociologist professor at you see and the echo and the Father of Imitative suicide research in America in
Eighteen, seventy four exactly two hundred years after Verba was published here MR seminal paper called the influence of suggestion on suicide, substantive and theoretical implications of the fair to effect My students and I were the first to provide large scale evidence that there is in fact such a thing is caught. Get suicide and we call this. I called it the verdict. Now there is a work of fiction, but the very effect focuses more on true stories about suicide. The theory goes that whenever the media runs with a big sensational suicide story, especially if the victim is famous, you can expect a bump and suicide rates. Philips in company gathered twenty years of suicide data. Nineteen. Forty eight nineteen sixty seven from the National Centre for health statistics. Then they combed threw back issues of three major newspapers and honed in on front page suicide reports. The actress Carol land us do
boroughs who ran the KKK in New York, one of the most famous stars in Hollywood. History is dead. At thirty, six mama was found dead in bed under circumstance. Of course, this was back before all the conspiracy theories about how she died, anyway, in twenty seven out of thirty three cases like this suicide rates were higher than expected for about two months following the story so, for example, Marilyn Monroe died on August. Fifth, nineteen sixty two for the rest of that August. U S. Suicide rates were ten percent higher than formal. How do we know that this? A ten percent increase in August of sixty two we're comparing the number of seats besides in August of sixty two with the number of suicides in August of nineteen sixty one and the number of suicides in August of nineteen sixty three, so those other artists are the controls. That's right. In cases? The bump was a lot smaller, but it's not so much the size says Phillips as the consistency and it wasn't just
suicides that went up after these media reports. You also get a spike in single car crashes after suicide stories, and you see that the driver in the single car crash is unusually similar to the person described in the suicide story. So if the present described in the zoo stories unusually young then spike in single car crashes. Just afterwards has drivers who are usually young so to close that loop hidden there not accidents there. People are advances right, so all of these things together make it very difficult to think of an alternative explanation, but this is not to say people kill themselves because they read a big splashing suicide story in the paper. It's not really about the causes of suicide it's about a creature of suicides, this is Thomas, neither Croton dollar an assistant professor at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria about ten years
do that original study. The viewer to affect hit Vienna in a big way. There was and tremendous increase of subway suicides and suicide attempts on the way in these subway in early, nineteen, eighteen and nineteen. Eighty three, there is just one jumper in the Vienna Subway and that person live the next year. There were seven suicides by subway in Vienna, and the big austrian papers ran graphic stories about them in nineteen. Eighty five: thirteen jumpers ten deaths, more splashing articles at the peak in nineteen eighty seven there were eleven successful suicide attempts in the Vienna Subway and eleven unsuccessful, though granted three of those were the same guy. Finally, the Austrian Association of Suicide Prevention told the press to tone it down. They issued a whole series of recommendations, don't included suicide in the headline. Dont print pictures of grieving relatives, but just should also mention how blinds helping up opportunities for people in rises, amazingly the,
green media listened, the stories were less graphic and they stopped running so many of them and at the same time, the number of suicides and suicide attempts on the Vienna Savary decreased by nearly eighty percent and this is really stunning. The numbers remained relatively low in all the years up until today yeah, I thought there was a pretty study. This is David Phillips again, he says, he's They not so comfortable telling the media. What to do you think's freedom of the press should be inviolate, but both the World Health Organization. and the AP managing Editors Association asked for his advice, so he basically told them. Think of Suicide story as a kind of commercial, if you make the product attractive, people will want it. But if you say by the way, when a person kills Himself- let's say by shooting, he looks terrible afterwards or when a prison poisons himself often fails the bid sheets and things like this. If you talk about the pain and the disfigurement,
I thought that would make it less likely that people would be copying the suicides and there may even be a trend growing in the other direction. Thomas couldn't dollar and his team in Austria did their own study. Looking at nearly five hundred newspaper articles from the first half of two thousand five, he says not only they find more evidence for the fair to effect, but they saw sir, side rates go down when the media wrote about someone who found an alternative solution to his or her problems. So this may be exactly the opposite side of the same thing and we called this effect. They pop again no effect propaganda was another fictional character from Mozart's opera. The magic flute like they're, too he's in suicidal prices over a girl, his beloved Papa Gay. Now, but just as he's. now to hang himself through
Young boys rush the stage and tell him not to do it. They say again or use the magic belt, and up again I will come back and psychological is speaking. We can say this is what we believe that actually those newspaper press articles do they remind people what they can two other then commit suicide. I should say that I'm pretty agnostic about this. This is Matt RE again Natasha the university sociologist from earlier in the show my senses that what this literature, MRS, are all of the times that high profile suicides occur that don't spark contagion. The one that comes to mind is: Turkey, being current corbians body was found inside a garage apartment adjacent to Seattle, home dead of an apparently self inflicted shot, gun, wound police, say a suicide.
Note was near by everyone was expecting. He was a rash of of his shot. Gun induced originate, no lawyer had off suicides in the wake of Cobain death. They did not materialise. And so the question is: why was it so Thomas need a curtain dollar? There were some specifics about current Cobain suicide, in particular campaigns. Spouse grab. Me laugh, yeah, yeah cut me love. She was brought ass in the media immediately after suicide, a really sir, you guys get it there, and she told me
all the answer. This was really the wrong thing to do, and there is one study actually from the: U S which showed that reports that use negative definitions of suicide so such as suicide is south, and that is still bids that you should not do that. Those reports and ninety nine percent less likely to identify a complicated phenomenon than other reports, so listen suicide, is something that is stupid, that you should not do. After all, I am the media, and this whole show is basically one big suicide article and, as I said, the mat re, I've been wondering what type of article it is are you trying to figure out how to report on the story without like sparking soon,
Well, it is an odd little meadow problem. Isn't it I mean I'm doing a story about like whether what I'm doing a story about could possibly causes suicide? Contagion? Yes and no acquainted with that dilemma, but what about a song David Lester. The psychology professor tells us about time in the night in third, is to Hungarians Rota Sancho Gloomy Sunday. That was for precipitate a wave of suicides across Europe. Economics, radio producer, Susie Lichtenberg, went to Hungary. Really
Erasmus piano still sits rather benignly in the restaurant in Budapest, where he used to play his most famous song. The person and the song is thinking about suicide. He or she. wants to be reunited with a lover whose just died today, it sounds a bit melodramatic, but as many as two hundred people might have killed themselves after listening to the song. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, because they heard the yeah, but it was just a trigger. It was just the trigger hungarian psychiatry, Zoltan rumour says, but it had to be stopped. The Budapest police enforced a gloomy Sunday ban and
the BBC, the BBC band that song, until two thousand and two these days to honour the restaurant Mercer as used to play still gets requests he's not afraid to play it, but he feel certain absolute that this was a suicidal song. It should come as no surprise, then measures will be the suicide. He was. Seventy in nineteen sixty eight reservoirs gloomy Sundays composer jumped to his death from the window of a small apartment in Budapest. Unfortunately, this hungarian suicide story isn't unique,
this one man or this one song suicide, has been epidemic in this country for most of the last century, Hungary's had the highest suicide rate in the world right now, it's more than double the suicide rate in United States. So what is it about this place? Why are so many people killing themselves here? Oh husband, my husband was
I had some great looking wearing thousand Sylvia Levine Delano Mirsky method, a concert he was a neurologist. She worked in finance, he was cool. She says they fell in love, Married had a daughter, but they didn't have a fairytale ending Levant his family had a history of mental illness. It was something he was afraid was in his blood before remarried were sitting at the kitchen table when he told me that if it ever happen to him that zeal and that he will need treatment with drugs, then he refused to drugs even about drugs. He prefers because drugs psychiatric nurse will change personality and he wants to remain himself all the time.
Eleven days mental state deteriorated. He was hospitalized that few years after it happened to him exactly what he described when he had a few moments alone, when doctors and nurses left his room, relevant. A lotta mirsky hang himself. May I also say that I was able to completely ignore at my husband they somehow still with us my own suicide with something I was able to completely ignore Sylvia tried to kill herself years before she and Levanter met, but she says she didn't wanna die. It was a cry for help more than anything else.
there is, but make sure that that it won't kill me everyone in Hungary know someone like Sylvia, like Levanter. The World Health Organisation says in two thousand eight about two thousand four hundred people committed suicide here to put that number in context around the same time in Greece, a country that roughly the same size, there were three hundred and ninety four suicides Yes, my name is voluntary manner and that doctors, Zoltan rumour in his smoke filled office in Budapest. He's a professor of psychiatry, some nice universe,
and he says there are two main reasons- the suicide rate is so high that privilege of bipolar disorder. We have fallen to the life, not people bible disorder. In Hungary's Pfeiffer, the world wide rate, a bipolar disorder, is about half that the risk of suicide is much higher ambitions which bipolar disorder. It can be one factor, but it is just loved. Ethyl alcohol plays a very important role in suicide, and Hungary has the third highest alcohol consumption rate in the world. this country is about the size of Indiana from the window of the train. The hungarian great plains look like at two in the southwest there's a small town called kitchen Hollish, it's a nice little tan that psychiatrist Catalan, Xanto. There is a little less museum dad and there
This may mean making beautiful places. on the other hand, then a few poor cat on their use. He drunken PIPA outside the pops. If you visit their local hospital palm in their psychotic board there. Ah dad the circumstances were buried. Poor, but ass, an atmosphere dog shit? I'm my name is Doctor Agnes at night I'm the deleted off these psychiatric Department of Turkish Hospital until two thousand five kitchen polish was the epicenter of suicide. In Hungary,
Suicide in this town was double the national rate, as one cultural critic put it. Living here was like living on psychic death row. At that juncture, advent amenities push us in a family which was a big family and ever more than ten suicides in the family. In two thousand one Doktor Agnes Rats nose and a colleague began one hundred psychological autopsies, meaning they interviewed family in depth after a loved one had committed suicide. Father said the shadow sixty seven. There was more disorder and sixty alcohol and, of course, over overlaps as well, but this number is huge. This was part of a study that ran for five years and kicking polish Doktor, Catalan Santo and colleagues train twenty eight of the
Around thirty general practitioners in suicide prevention. They set up a suicide hotline and made low cost antidepressants available to residents. Then they compared their results to a neighbouring town, a control group, and it worked yeah. That's like Turkey for less sites, then high enjoying this five years. Ten in the previous five years over all the suicide rate in the region decrease sixteen percent. The suicide rate for women decreased thirty four percent. This shouldn't be that surprising. Research by academics in United States, like Jens Ludwig, has shown the antidepressants do lower the suicide rate, but here's the thing, even though the suicide Prevention Programme and Kitchen Hollis was a success. This model just hasn't caught on anywhere else. In Hungary, the country still has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So why
we can see upon the breach. the motto got it back in Budapest everywhere, you walk there musicians plain classical music in the streets, the Margaret it stretches over the Danube, which is the life blood of the city. It stunning, but it's all The place where many Hungarians have jumped to their death. I met psychiatrist, Bela Buddha, banks of the river. Seventy three was born and lived in Buddha. You know my life eels exactly how you want someone named booted. Look grain rotund, I've been told big seventeen languages. He says it's just too
they saw moved along their view. Modal air in French, someone, Girton german members, should a murmur to my car duty in italian border is simply Buddha has tried to solve the problem of suicide, his entire career. He started the first suicide hotline in the country he worked and second, the court, when the suicide rate with soaring, but he said This problem is hard to solve, because a lot of people here don't say anything wrong a suicide. The hungarian general opinion is very favourable towards suicide. If some They commit suicide. Commented this brave act as such but he had the courage. do and the subsidy for use this old man.
them self praise in the community brave enough enough to free the February from about them off his axis. coming up. Is it your responsibility to try to? a stranger from killing himself and why you call someone who considers suicide. A rational. From W and Y see. This is for economics, radio,
Here's your house, Stevens Abner. Next year, the Golden Gate Bridge will celebrate its seventy fifth anniversary. babies from San Francisco pains that bridge across the bay you'll hear all kinds of true. Do it all kinds of facts and figures? What number you probably won't hear, at least in the official proclamation, is the suicide toll, since the Golden Gate Bridge opened more than one thousand four hundred people who kill themselves by jumping off. There is another place that now attracts more suicides each year, the eye Yokohama Forest and Japan. But historically the golden gate is still the world's number. One
suicide spot. Last year alone, thirty two people jumped and died. Now it should be said that every week day about five thousand people walk across the bridge and don't jump and a hundred thousand cars cross it every day, cars with drivers, lake near I had him pronounces name. My name is up. Panza pull my heart to pull. You see the seventeen lead altogether. He moved here, Thailand in nineteen sixty eight new drove a cabin San Francisco for fifteen years. When I pick up a guy like you, down nearby tenderly anyone to go according to bridge the cock a night they say. Ok, I drop on frank industry you and ask me why galvani bridge at this late hour, I just you want to tell me. I guess I will listen to it and he said I'm going to
jam up the voting a bridge. I say: ok, you you're, not gonna. Stop me. I say wiser than you know and I get out to the Golden Gate affair was night, seven dollars something that I mean look, while it is found a ten dollar lay, so he gave it to me in a tender site tone autonomous, I don't do you need a change I guess you I had to change as okay, so Martha do undecided bridge, so once you get off, I turn around a cab. I call my dispatcher, I told what did you call you were told and he did baby, I don't know- maybe I was to call me,
what will happen if he really gonna jump now we don't know if this man did in fact jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at night. If did. You almost certainly died, since only two percent of jumper survive. We I have no idea what was going through his head that night, you have a fight with someone he loses job. Maybe just have one drink too many. Here's David Lester I am expected to know the answers to questions such as wiping killed themselves. If you unpack that why, in why people kill themselves, there are all kinds of other things we don't know about suicide either, for instance, the percentage of people who seek help or get help before committing suicide.
We don't know or even how many people who commit suicide or mentally ill Lester, says, there's so much disagreement on this question that estimates range from five percent to ninety four percent and then there's the mystery of the suicidal impulse, and I have just found a case amusing in an article. I'm writing. Where The time between the impulse and the act was sums five seconds. Think about that five seconds, The man was walking over a bridge and Sunday. The thought came to him one was in some thing financial distress to, but he thought about suicide before three, but he said I want to kill myself, for an he merely jumped off the bridge, fine, and he was saying and that's the shortest into all. I've come across one. I could.
Study. Looked it attempted suicide in Houston among fifteen to thirty four year olds. It found that in seventy percent of the cases, the time between deciding to commit suicide and taking action was under an where seventy percent of the cases for about a quarter of the people involved. The time gap was five minutes or less pretty stunning people are made a permanent decision to end their lives on the spur of the moment. How are you supposed to stop that? Remember this? Panza pull my hostile purple. He didn't try to stop his taxi passenger from jump
you're, not gonna, stop me, I say why should I you know why should I sounds pretty cold hearted? Doesn't it does it? Your life belongs to you, it's a crime to take someone else's life, but not yours he's not a crime in practice. So should we consider the suicidal impulse a rational choice, know what you're thinking only an economist would say something like that: an economist Lake Dan Hammer Mesh at the University of Texas. He once wrote a paper called an economic three of suicide. I think there's an epoch graft the paper, which I conclude exactly as by Arthur Schopenhauer, when the value a man's life is less than that you can read it. I have with me now lunch you read As soon as the terrors of life reached the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man. an end. Angela thy life exists, We will not just an economic statement. Your way
benefits on one side of the equation, the cost of the other the cloth succeed. The benefits you chop off, the investment back in the spring nineteen. Seventy two Dan Hammer Mesh was hunting around for a research topic and he thought of a poem he'd red back in high school poem is Richard Corey by Edmund Arlington Robinson written in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Whenever Richard Corey, down town. We people on the pavement looked at him. He was a gentleman from sold. There was something about the poem that nagged and limb and he was rich yes, richer than the king and admirably schooled in every grace in fine. We thought that he was everything to make us wish that we were in his place so on. We worked and waited for the light and went without the meat and cursed the bread and Richard Corey one summer night went home and put a bullet in his head. That's it the last part. It didn't make sense to him,
I was worried. Re bothered by the notion of suicides are problem, rich people and that really struck me as an economist being re stupid. Since I believe rich people are generally gonna be happier utilities higher income goes up, you should be less thought. they kill yourself. So those are the thoughts running through my mind that spring afternoon and ninety seven budget Sudan Hammer Mission did? What economists do he wrote a model to determine the candy? under which suicide might be considered a rational choice. He came up with three predict suicide. One rises with age to falls income increases and three falls. If you're, desire to live, is high, nothing so radical, but at the time no one had tried anything like this, then
Hamish plugged some suicide data from the World Health Organisation into his model. His predictions were right. He also calculated the opportunity cost of a suicide a fifty year old person and a seventeen year old person have different expectations of future happiness, income and so on. So the price of suicide is higher for the fifty year old, but whether it makes economic sense for either Percinet commit suicide, depends on what economists call the utility function. How much you value your life. So it all goes back to. The Schopenhauer quote at the beginning of hammer meshes paper as soon as the terrors of life reached the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life. Hammer mesh may have been the first economists to wrestle with suicide. In this way it is hardly the first intellectualize Plato, Aristotle,
The greek and roman stoics, the early church fathers and on up to Durkheim in Freud, Margaret Batten, sometimes called Peggy, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah Plato. She as argued that suicide was wrong in some cases not wrong and others Aristotle thought it was cowardly. An offence society stoics, on the other hand, thought that suicide with the active, the wise man. This is I've done in desperation, bore agitation or depression any of the things that we ordinarily assume associate with that term. It's the reflective responsible, actively genuinely wise man for the Stoics suicide was a procedure. People who wanted to commit suicide would plead their case before magistrates to get permission.
interest rates kept a supply of hemlock on hand. Whoever no longer wishes to live shall state his reason the Senate, and after having received permission. Abandoned life if you're Assistance is hateful to you die. Who are overwhelmed by fate, drink the hemlock if you're bowed with grief, abandoned life not the unhappy man recount his misfortune. Let the magistrate supply him with the remedy and his wretchedness will come to an end. but going forward in history. This is hardly the mainstream view Christine but he held that suicide is a sin Dante set aside, one of his inferno for suicides fast for about seven hundred years and we're still firm in our moral stance. We can't really that are suicide. A rational choice can link,
We would wake up to the sound of her typing astonishing speed on her Smith, corona typewriter, more Ireland is talking about her mom Carolyn Hydrogen. The Virginia Wolf scholar, Colombia through a mystery novels on the side she was famous for making grand pronouncements pressing outlandish things. partner of mine enjoy drinking storage now vodka, so she took to having it on hand, but she system on calling at source and needs, and she knew it wasn't. But she just you, know I'll go the Sultan eaten So it was the same with her when she started saying that she would kill herself when she reached a certain age but it was another of those sort of pronouncements, and
Thought, oh well, Mommy's prone to pronouncements Ireland, Heidelberg decided that by the time, she turned seventy. She would have accomplished what she could accomplish. She would have had enough of life and should end. Her family, her husband and her three grown kids. They weren't quite sure what to make of this. It was relief when her seventeenth birthday came and went without a suicide. Apparently she had changed her mind. She even wrote a book called the last gift of time life. Beyond sixty her daughter says she took a lot of pleasure in life, even the small things she loved gifts, and it was quite easy to please her with a gift. she'd made some sort of remark about. She wanted to start listening to sex I think she said no longer string, quartet's, no longer string, quartet, quintet and Sextette.
and I was at Borders bookstore and found them. Could it have been set TAT by M Eldar, and this was on Tuesday. The seventh of October pulled out my cell phone to caller. Voicemail came on, and I thought I don't feel like talking right now, I'm gonna call on sale dont really want elegant. Do you by your Al Gore I hung up before she picked up and they never spoke to her again.
Carolyn Heidelberg waited until she was seventy seven and then she did kill herself on October nights. Two thousand three: she wasn't sick. She wasn't depressed but she did feel she'd come to the end of a writing life, and that was that left to know out in the fire that said The journey is over a love to all Carolyn
Did anyone know that she was planning to kill herself now? Did your father note, for instance? Oh no, he didn't know your father. He was an economist. Yes, yes, so economists are practised in the art or science or whatever it is of of, what's known as rational thinking here is the wave of an economist, your mother, whose to have approached suicide, or at least life in the end of life. As a rational decision did you see, that way or no. No, I I think it's a fear. mortally ill, pain. I can see, seeking to end your life, but now I think it was unreasonable. National of her, but I think she felt entirely reason down
Mama I'm sorry for your loss and again I very much appreciate your willingness to come speak to us. Thank you. for David Lester, the dean of suicide studies, forty plus years of research has, did some answers about the what of suicide. Who is most likely to do it and when and how but the why remains elusive. The people who do it aren't necessarily the ones you might expect you marry the point. Steve that made earlier in the show how puzzling it is the people whose law I have looked so hard, don't kill themselves in huge numbers, member, the p DA, the amazonian tribe, with their outrageous rates of infant mortality and malaria. No suicide or african Americans who
real white Americans on just about every meaningful socio economic dimension but commit suicide. Half is often here's what David Lester has been thinking about. Actually, I've done studies on the quality of life in nations and the quality of life in the Prince States in America and Regions with a higher quality of life have a higher suicide rate now comedy Life is more than wealth, the people who try rate the collar. life use a variety of indices, health, education, culture, yeah graffiti, all kinds of things they put more into it and just you know, median family income or individual per capita income and dumb What I've argue, therefore, is it seems to be an inevitable consequence of improving the quality of life, the quality of life is poor and he may be your unemployed in war.
You're, an oppressed minority. Whatever it might be is a civil war going on. You know why you miserable United you have light. Intonation gets better and you are still there. asked why everybody else's enjoying themselves: getting good jobs, getting promotions fancy cause why you still miserable. So no external cause to blame your misery upon which means is more likely that you see it is some defect: stable trade in yourself, therefore, you gonna be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life. It's so in sitting there just so many pieces of this puzzle, as you put it that are fascinating, but confounding I mean what you're talking about now when there's a higher quality of life suicide to rise your wife, whose an economist I wonder she would consider then calling suicide to some degree, a luxury good. Yes,
now. There's an anthropologist in the past rail narrowed who who considered suicide an indication of a six society and so in my writings I'm argued it. No, it's an indication of a healthy society. So if you know it is a puzzle, a paradox, perhaps we should say. Fr Economics radios despite W and Y see a PM american public media indefinite productions. This episode was produced by Susie, elect him broken Borri, Lamb withheld from Chris nearing Diana Win, Ellen Horn and Peter Cloudy, calling Campbells our executive producer. This episode was makes by John Delors our thanks to Miriam Dona Beatrix Coup Cone in Budapest and Creasy Clark in California. If you want more frequent comics radio, you can subscribe to our pod cast on Itunes or go to friggin mixed up com, we'll find lots of radio a blog, the books and more.
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-15.