« Freakonomics Radio

40. The Suicide Paradox

2011-08-31 | 🔗
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.
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Ten million customers who save more than four million dollars from bad rates every day and try wise for free at wise, dotcom, flash for economics don't be a word for college professor, but I can say outcasts. 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 tat we have is 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 them 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 it 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.
No, it's not that suicide doesn't happen in the Amazon for other tribes. It's a problem and is I've 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 about twice ass. I 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 built 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 a light into darkness, that's usually left 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 want 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 do 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 method 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 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 effects, use it reads picking 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 two no 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 on 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. Yes, the mountain West is a place that is disproportionately populated by middle age, an aging white men, single unattached, often unemployed, with access to guns. This may turn out to be a very powerful explanation and explain about 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 Americans 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 been 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 your life is misery when it seems beyond redemption or repair. Where do you put the blame. Blame other people. You can blame yourself what, if you could blame song, is come places where suicide is epidemic in how gets that Now.
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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 or its we're gonna have to go all the way back to seventeen. 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 young veto was written mostly as a series of fictional letters by a young dilettante artist named bear tat. He travels to the countryside falls. With a girl whose already engaged with despairs and then borrows two pistols from her fiance, they are loaded. The clock strikes. Twelve, I see a man shore, lotta shore, lotta, farewell farewell sorry to spoil the 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, this because that many people who read the book kill themselves by the same method. Sometimes they even kill themselves with the book open to the page where he was described, is killing himself David Philips is a sociologist professor. At using Andy ago and the Father of Imitative suicide research in America. In
eighteen. Seventy four, exactly two hundred years after verity was published here, these two 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 Hoddan large scale evidence that there is in fact such a thing is he kept suicide and we call this. I called it the bear to effect now. Virtue is a work of fiction, but the fair to 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. Phillips and company gathered twenty years of suicide data. One thousand nine hundred and forty eight to nineteen sixty seven from the national Center for health statistics and they combed through back issues of three major newspapers and honed in on front page suicide reports, the actress Carole Landis
boroughs who ran the KKK in New York, one of the most famous stars in Hollywood. History is dead at thirty, six Mamma Mamma was found dead in that under circumstance. Of course, this was back before 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 normal. How do we know that there is a ten percent increase in August of sixty two we're comparing the numbers 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 that 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 it
suicides. They 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 currency Crash is unusually similar to the person described in the suicide story, so, if the present described in this, stories unusually young then spike in single car crashes. Just afterwards has drivers who are usually young so to close that loop, he didn't they're, not accidents there. People remains is right, so all 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 the creaking of suicides. This is Thomas, neither Croton dollar an assistant professor at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria about ten years
after that original study, the viewer to effect hit Vienna in a big way, there was and tremendous increase of subway suicides and suicide attempts on the weekend. These sub way 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 and 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 low 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 include word suicide in the headline, dont print pictures of grieving relatives, but you should also mention how pipelines helping up opportunities for people. Prizes, amazingly the
Austrian 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 viennese savvy decreased by nearly eighty percent and if 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 Philips again, he says he's 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 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 in things like this, if you talk about the pain and the disfigurement
and I thought that would make it less likely that people would be copying the suicide and there may even be a trend growing in the other direction, Thomas, cotton 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 did they find more evidence for the fair to effect, but they sauce beside 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 up again, no effect. Propaganda was another fictional character from Mozart's opera. The magic flute like there to ease and suicidal crisis over a girl, his beloved Papa Gay? Now, but just as you, about to hang himself
young boys rush, the stage and tell him not to do it. They say again use your magic, boughs and propaganda 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 now the university sociologist from earlier. In the show. My senses that what the solidity premises are all of the times that high profile suicides occur that don't spark contagion. The one that comes to mind is Turco being current, Cobain 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? Neither curtain dollar? There were some specifics about Kurt Cobain Suicide, in particular campaigns spouse grab me laugh, yeah yeah cut me love. She was brought cousin the media immediately after suicide, a really sir, you guys go, get it there and she told me
the audience. 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 those reports and ninety nine percent less likely to identify a copycat, phenomenon than other reports. So listen suicide It is something that is stupid that you should not do. After all, I am the media and this whole show is basically one big sewage, 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, so
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, M well 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
so raises piano, still sits rather benignly in the restaurant in Budapest, where he used to play his most famous song. The person on the song is thinking about suicide. He or she he wants to be reunited with a lover who 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 dream. It was just the trigger hungarian psychiatry. Zoltan rumour says, but it had to be stopped. The Budapest police enforced a gloomy Sunday ban.
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 leisure cherish globally to 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. Marianne Thyssen, Sylvia of Anti Lotta 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 you will need treatment with drugs, then he refused to drugs even about drugs. He prefers because drugs psychiatric loss will change personality and he wants to remain himself all the time.
Levant S, 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 my also site? I was able to completely ignore 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 unlamented met, but she says she didn't wanna die. It was a cry for help. More than anything else.
There is one major, then let it won't kill me. Everyone in Hungary know someone like Sylvia, like Levanter. The World Health Organization says in two thousand eight about two thousand four hundred people committed suicide here. To put that numbering 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 vulgar 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 found the lifetime people bipolar disorder in Hungary's Pfeiffer, the worldwide 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 love. 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 a train. The hungarian great plains look like at two in the southwest there's a small town called kitchen polish. It's a nice clean hooked on that psychiatrist, Catalan Zento. There is, however, Lace museum dad and dead,
This may mean making beautiful places, On the other hand, then a few poor cat on that. You see drunken PIPA outside the pops. If you visit their local hospital upon in the psychotic born there. Ah dad the circumstances were buried. Poor. But I said Agnes Dog Shit, I'm my name is doctor. Agnes, that's nice, and I'm the leader 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. It 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 value in depth. After a loved one had committed suicide, Savage shed their shared in sixty seven, there was more disorder and sixty a whole and, of course, over overlaps as well, but this number is huge. This was part of a study that ran for five years and Kitchen Hollis, Doktor, Catalan, Santo and colleagues train. Twenty eight of the
towns, thirty general practitioners in suicide prevention, they set up a suicide hotline and made low cost antidepressants available to residents. Then they compared the results to a neighbouring town, a control group, and it worked yeah, never like Turkey for less sites. Then I ain't joining 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 against Ludwig has shown the anti depressants do lower the suicide rate, but here's the thing, even though the suicide Prevention programme in Kashgar 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 playing classical music in the streets. The Margaret It stretches over the Danube, which is the lifeblood of the city. It stunning, but it's for the place where many Hungarians have jumped to their death. I met psychiatrist. Bela Buddha. Banks of the river seventy three was born and raised in Buddha. You know my life either, Exactly how you want someone named Buddha? Look: grain rotund, I've been too He speaks seventeen languages. He says it's just
they saw moved along their view. Modal air and french someone Girton german member, 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 records when the suicide rate with soaring but he's 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 but he committed suicide, this comment. Is this a brave act? but he had the courage. To end the subsidy for ease This old man
hang them self praise in the community. I believe that we now have to free the February from about them off his axis. coming up. Is it your responsibility to try to stop a stranger from killing himself and do you call someone who considers suicide? A rational. Freedoms, radio sponsored by total wine and more fling into spring at total wine and more were fresh flavors are in full bloom,
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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. 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 to kill them. By jumping off, there is another place that now attract more suicides each year, the Yoke Ega horror a forest in Japan, but historically the golden gate is still the world's number one.
Suicide spot. Last year alone, thirty two people jumped in 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 as seventeen altogether. He moved it from Thailand in nineteen sixty eight new drove a cab and San Francisco. For fifteen years, when I took up the guy down nearby tenderly anyone to go according to bridge the cop a night. Ok, I drop on Frankenstein You didn't ask me why galvani bridge at this late hour, I you wanna tell me, I guess I will listen to it and you say I'm gonna.
Go a gem of owning a bridge. I say: ok, you! you're not going to stop me. I say why, should I you know- and I get out to the wounded. Bruce 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. I told me I don't do you need a change. Why does your eye on the change? I thought so. Let me offer do undecided bridge, so once you get off, I turn around a cab. I call my dispatcher. I told what you call it. And he did- maybe I don't know- maybe I was too to quote me:
I don't know, 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 did. He almost certainly died, since only two percent of jumper survive. We so I have no idea what was going through his head that night, you have a fight with someone you lose his job. Maybe just have one drink too many. Here's David less! again, I am expected to know the answers to questions such as wine. Who 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. So
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- I'm using in an article. I'm writing where the time between the impulse and the act with some like five seconds, think about that five seconds. The man was walking over a bridge and sunny the thought came to him. One. He was in some might think financial distress to, but he hadn't thought about suicide before three then he said I want to kill myself. Four and he merely jumped off the bridge five, and he was saying- And that's the shortest interval. I've come across one
I'm a study looked at 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 our seventy percent of the cases for about a quarter of the people involved. The time gap was five minutes or less pre. Stunning people a permanent decision to end their lives, spur of the moment. How are you supposed to stop that? Remember this I Panza pull my heart to pop pole. 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 fury 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 and now you can read it. I have with me now monsieur as soon as the terrors of life reached the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man put an end to enjoy life, eggs We will not just an economic statement, your way
the benefits on one side of the equation, the cost of the other, the costs exceed the benefits you chop off. The investment back in the sky, 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 and down town we people on the pavement looked at him. He was a gentleman from sold. There was something about the poem that nagged him 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 come summer. Night went home and put a bullet in his head. That's it. The last part, it didn't make sense to me:
I was always very bothered by the notion of suicides- are problem. Rich people in that way struck me as an economist being re stupid, since I believe rich people are generally gonna be happier utilities higher income goes out, be should be less than gonna 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 can actions under which suicide might be considered a rational choice. He came up with three per. Sean's suicide. One rises with age to falls. Income increases and three falls. If you are desire to live is high, nothing so radical, but at the time no one had tried anything like this.
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 food your happiness, income and so on. So the price of suicide is higher for the fifty year old, but whether it may the economic sense for either personal, 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 and Freud Margaret Batten, sometimes called Peggy, is a professor of philosophy at the University of Utah Plato, says argued that suicide was wrong in some cases, not wrong. Another's Aristotle thought it was cowardly, an offence, to society stoics, on the other hand, thought that suicide with the active, the wise man? This is not done in desperation or 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
magistrates kept a supply of hemlock on hand, whoever no longer wishes to live shall state his reach, Instead, the Senate having received permission, El abandoned life. If you existences. Hateful to you die You are overwhelmed by fate drink the hemlock, if you are bowed with grief, abandoned life not the unhappy man recount his misfortune. Let the magistrate supply I am with the remedy, and his wretchedness will come to an end. But going forward in history, this is hardly the mainstream view Christine and then he held that suicide is a sin. Dante set aside, one ring of his inferno for suicides fast, for word about seven hundred years and years. A firm and our moral stance. We can't really Consider suicide, a rational choice. Can we
we would wake up to the sound of her typing, an astonishing speed on her Smith Corona Typewriter, more Ireland is talking about her mom Carolyn High, overrun Was the Virginia Wolf scholar Colombia through a mystery novels on the side she was famous for making grand pronouncements forcing outlandish things. Partner of mine enjoy drinking storage snare vodka, so she took to having it on hand, but she insisted on calling at source and needs and she knew it wasn't. But she just now: get the Sultan needs and 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.
One thought oh well Mommy's prone to pronouncements. Carolyn highly printed decided the bullet. 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 Was a relief when her seventieth birthday came and went without a suicide? Apparently she had changed your mind. Even wrote. A book called the last gift of time, lay 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 say tat, I think she said no longer string quartet's, no longer string quartet's quintet Sextette
and I was at Borders bookstore and found them. Could it have been assessed? stand by him Eldar in this, on Tuesday, the seventh of October pulled out my cell phone to caller her voice mail, came on, and I thought I don't really feel like talk. You're right now. I'm gonna call on sale Dont really want elegant. Do you you want me to buy 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 her 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 wife of an economist, your mother, whose, seems to have approached suicide, or at least life and the end of life as a rational decision did use. In 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, irrational of her, but I think chief entirely reason down
who 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 builded some answers about the what of suicide, whose 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. Of it made earlier in the show how puzzling it is the people whose, I'll, look so hard, don't kill themselves in huge numbers. Member that da the amazonian tribe, with their outrageous rates of infant mortality and malaria but no suicide or african Americans who,
trail 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, different states in America and regions with a higher quality of life have a higher suicide rate. Now collar Life is more than wealth. The people who try rate the call, of life use a variety of indices, health, education, culture. Geography 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. If you're quality of life is poor and he may be your unemployed, you are,
you're, an oppressed minority, whatever it might be, there's a civil war going on. You know why you miserable quality of life in a nation gets better and you are still Press. Why everybody else's enjoying themselves getting good jobs getting promotions? I fancy cause- why you still miserable so is no external cause to blame your misery upon. Which means is more likely that you see it is some defect, stable, trait in yourself Whenever you gonna be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life, it so trusting they're 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 tends 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 narrow 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 it you know it is a puzzle, a paradox. Perhaps we should say Freakin onyx radios, produced by W and Y see a PM american public media indefinite productions. This episode was produced by Susie, elect work in Bahrain, Lamb with help from Chris nearing Diana Win, Ellen Horn and Peter Cloudy, calling Campbells our executive producer. This episode was mixed by John to lure our thanks to Miriam Dona Beatrix Component, Budapest and Chrissy Clark in California. If you want more frequent onyx radio, you can subscribe to our podcast on Itunes or go to for economic stock com, we'll find lots of radio a blog, the books and more.
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-17.