Can an Obstacle Prevent Suicide?
Gun safety can save lives.
Posted December 2, 2010
My good friend Yvonne Crum from the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas (www.sccenter.org) posed an interesting idea regarding my last blog. Does an obstacle make a difference in deterring a suicide attempt? Scott Anderson's article "The Urge to End it All" written in 2008, still resonates on this topic. Read the link if you are like me, a person who will wants details. For the rest of you, the answer is YES.
Anderson cites two different cases where the suicide rate dramatically dropped because suicide became harder to accomplish. In London, when sticking one's head in an oven in a coal gas oven was the preferred method of suicide, almost 2,500 people annually took this route. Poetry lovers know that Sylvia Plath chose this end, carefully placing a towel under the door to protect her children asleep in the next room. The oven-suicide method accounted for half the suicides in the UK. When the British government phased out coal gas for less lethal natural gas ovens, the suicide rate dropped by a third.
Just luck? I don't think so. Anderson notes another example of in Northwest Washington DC between the Ellington and Taft bridges. Ellington, known as the "suicide bridge" attracted more jumpers. After three people jumped to their deaths in a 10-day period, a suicide barrier was erected. People expected the jumpers to migrate to the Taft bridge to leap, but they didn't. A study conducted five years later that the suicide rate dropped by 50% - the amount that typically jumped from the Ellington Bridge. Why didn't they just jump from the Taft? We don't know precisely, but the Taft bridge has a concrete railing that is chest-high on an average man. For someone at my height (5'1") I'd need a trampoline to jump from that bridge. The decrease seems to occur because of a simple change in environment. Jumping from either bridge became more difficult, so fewer people jumped.
Kevin Hines' video gives credence to the obstacle theory. o. Kevin Hines, one of the few to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge and survive mentions that the instant he let go of the rail, he regretted his action. "I don't want to die," he thought. "What have I done?" He spoke with the other few survivors and the vast majority had exactly the same thought.
Some suicides are impulsive, but I would argue that every suicide has an element of impulsivity. There is that moment in time when a person decides this is it. The more obstacles placed in a person's path the moment s/he makes that decision, the less likely s/he is to complete the act. If there were a gun in my house in 2001, I would not be alive today. Luckily, I had less lethal alternatives.
If we look at the rate of suicides in the US, about 17,000 people end their lives with a firearm. This is about half the suicides in our country, similar to the rate reported with oven suicides in Britian. If people locked up their guns, would our suicide rate drop by a third as it did in the Britian? That's 10,200 people annually (30% of 34K annual suicide rate). Gun safety is the mental health equivalent of wearing a seat belt. Even if the numbers are not that high, gun safety can play a critical role in saving lives.