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This Japanese Serial Killer Targeted the Suicidal

Did they really want to die? The odds are against it.

used with permission from iclipart
Source: used with permission from iclipart

On October 30, 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi was arrested and charged with the murder of eight women and one man. Using the Twitter handle “hanging pro,” he recruited his victims through social media by responding to suicidal posts and offering to assist them in their desire to die and in some cases, he offered to die with them. In reality, Shiraishi had a different agenda; he robbed and sexually assaulted his victims before strangling and dismembering them. He also took pains to avoid detection by cleverly disguising this as helping his victims fulfill their suicidal plans; “It is not good to tell friends, family members and social networking sites that you are going to die before committing suicide.”

While talking about this case with a friend of mine, I was struck by a comment he made. “Well, at least he chose people who wanted to kill themselves. They probably would have died anyway.”

But is this true? Do most people who attempt suicide really want to die? Obviously, we can’t ask people whose suicide attempts are fatal. But what about people who try to commit suicide and fail? Several years ago, as a host and producer for a local mental health show, I wondered what life was like for people who had seriously attempted suicide and failed and decided to find out for myself. Here’s what I found out.

Life After a Suicide Attempt

There’s a common saying among mental health professionals when it comes to suicide; it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. And, if we look at the research at life after a suicide attempt, it’s true. The vast majority of people who attempt suicide and fail are glad they weren’t successful. Seven out of 10 never try again. This is true even among those who survive a lethal attempt, such as jumping off a bridge or in front of a train. Among the 30 percent who reattempt, 7 out of 10 will not die. Most suicide attempts are a result of a temporary crisis; if a person thinking of suicide can get past it, the suicidal thoughts go away.

However, the relationship between suicide attempts and completions is not a simple one. Sixty percent of people who kill themselves have never attempted suicide before. For someone talking about suicide, there are clues other than previous suicide attempts that should send off warning bells among friends and family, such as a sense of hopelessness, alcohol abuse, significant medical problems. On the other hand, a previous suicide attempt is still one of the strongest risk factors for suicide; between 5 and 11 of every 100 people hospitalized for a suicide attempt do go on to commit suicide, compared to 1 out of 10,000 in the general population.

Can a Person be Talked into Suicide?

Getting the right help/support is the best way to get control of suicidal thoughts. And the worst? Being exposed to someone who is encouraging you to follow through with them. A person contemplating suicide is vulnerable; while it would be impossible to talk most people into killing themselves, we have tragic examples illustrating how possible it is to push an unstable individual over the edge.

In August 2017, Michelle Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail for involuntary manslaughter after she repeatedly sent texts encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself, listened over the phone as he suffocated and did nothing to intervene; it is a crime in 40 states to coerce or encourage suicide. In Russia, 22-year-old Philipp Budeikin was jailed for three years after alleged coercing 17 teenagers to commit suicide as part of his online Blue Whale Suicide Game; after his arrest, he told law enforcement his victims were “biological waste” and that he was “cleansing society.”

The Bottom Line

People, especially young people, are vulnerable when they are contemplating suicide. They are in pain and they want the pain to stop. Do they really want to die? The odds are against it. Even our Japanese serial killer recognized this; while he took advantage of a vulnerable group, he did not delude himself that he was doing them a favor. As he told investigators after his arrest, “They didn’t really want to die. They merely wanted someone to talk to.”

More from Joni E Johnston Psy.D.
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