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New York Post

 

The City's Suicide Epidemic Is A Myth

March 31, 2014

By Nicole Gelinas

It’s poisonously seductive to draw the wrong lesson from suicides.

In the two weeks since L’Wren Scott, fashion designer and Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, hanged herself with a black satin tie in her luxury Manhattan apartment, we’ve all heard the "answers": The big city offers fleeting reward, some say. Others, that Gotham will punish you eventually, even — or especially — for being rich, good-looking and successful.

One problem: The myth isn’t true.

Yes, the high-profile cases have piled up. Hedge-fund giant Robert W. Wilson jumped to his death from his Upper West Side apartment just before Christmas. "Relentlessly cheery" Chelsea therapist Bob Bergeron asphyxiated himself around New Year’s 2011.

And then there are the bankers — two, at least, in the past month. Before that, Barry Fox of Bear Stearns jumped to his death. Bernie Madoff’s son Mark hanged himself. Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, another Bernie associate, cut his wrists on Madison Avenue.

Most tragic are the children. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said suicides were making her "heartsick" in her first weeks on the job.

It’s easy to write false narratives, though.

Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann offered a doozy in The New York Times last week, writing, "Cities are places of possibility. They are, as E.B. White said of New York, ‘the visible symbol of aspiration . . .’ But cities also break traditions and fracture families, and they breed psychiatric illness."

This is a startlingly incorrect assertion to make in a New York paper. The less darkly glamorous truth is that the suicide rate in America overall is nearly twice New York City’s rate.

Six New Yorkers out of 100,000 kill themselves in an average year, versus 11 nationwide, reports the city Health Department. Though annual figures fluctuate, the latest city rate, for 2012, was 6.7, 54 percent of the national rate.

And the city has gotten safer over time, with our suicide rate down 16 percent since 1990.

New York is safer not only than rural areas but also than other cities. A 2007 report on urban suicide rates ranked us third from last on suicide deaths.

Why? Part of it is demographics. Older white men are at greater risk of suicide — and New York has fewer white men.

But even among white men and across age groups, more New Yorkers kept themselves alive. Nationwide in the late 2000s, 13 out of 100,000 whites, overwhelmingly men, killed themselves in an average year; in New York, the figure was eight.

The difference is "really striking," says Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographic researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

So what makes New Yorkers less suicide-prone?

The biggest likely reason, says Dr. Tom Farley, Bloomberg-era health commissioner, is "means elimination."

Nationwide, most people kill themselves with guns — usually their own. In New York, almost no one has a legal gun.

Yes, there are other ways to kill yourself, as the poem goes.

But, Farley notes, suicide is highly impulsive. The time it takes to gain access to a tall building is enough time for many people to change their minds, and not jump off after all.

People don’t kill themselves because they have a good reason. They do it, in many cases, because they’re drunk, angry and have a gun an arm’s length away.

The cities that do have higher suicide rates are in the South and Southwest, where lots of people have guns.

In some cases, it’s just the size of what we’re looking at that seems to change the picture.

When Chancellor Fariña sees 12 suicides since September, and 14 suicides the previous school year, she’s looking across a population of a million schoolchildren.

That same suicide rate in a smaller school district — with 10,000 students — would mean one suicide every seven years; the district head would view it as a tragic anomaly, not as a preventable health problem.

Practically speaking, it will be difficult for Fariña to get the numbers down. But sensible policies to make schools safer for bullied kids, gay kids and depressed kids will help those kids anyway, even if they aren’t seriously suicidal.

Any death is a tragedy — but overall, New York’s suicide rate is an urban success story.

People here trust their government to protect them from violence — so they accept gun-control laws that keep some of them from doing violence to themselves.

And maybe there’s something to E.B. White’s point after all: Maybe the fact that New York is still, with all its woes, a "place of possibilities" makes suicidal people more willing to give life another chance.

Whatever it is, the truth remains: For every hanging or jumping, there’s someone out there in this city who didn’t kill himself — and likely would’ve given in to despair, if he’d been in Las Vegas, Houston or Atlanta.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/03/30/the-citys-suicide-epidemic-is-a-myth/

 

 
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