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Monday, May 21, 2012

Suicide: More Common than Murder

While researching the post for Daniel Everett and the Piraha I came across an interesting statistic:

Suicide out numbers homicide in the US about five to three, i.e., for every three homicides there are five suicides.

This would appear to be true over the last several decades - even, as during the late 1970's and earl 1990's the rates of murder were peaking in absolute terms.

Suicide is basically a male-dominated activity - with teen and elderly men taking their own lives at a ratio of about five time that of women.

Suicide is also a crime, just like homicide.

Homicides per week tend to spike opposite of murders: Homicide tends to occur on weekends, suicide on Mondays.

African-American's are about half as likely to commit suicide as whites.  So populations with high densities of African-Americans, e.g., Washington D.C., Maryland and Louisiana, tend to have lower than average suicide rates due to their high African-American populations.

Suicide tends to peak in the inner Mountain West of the US - almost a suicide belt.

For young people 10-24 suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Yet you never hear anything about these kinds of statistics in the news...

What's most fascinating is that in terms of causes of death, as I wrote in "The Risk of the Cure," suicide is right up there with auto accidents and drug-related deaths.

Think of the resources the country spends to stop drug deaths and crime (and, of course, reduce the murder rate).

Yet no where near this amount of resource is spent on suicide.

Now at we find many reasons for depression, one of the triggers for suicide (along with other forms of untreated mental illness such as bipolar disorder):
  • The death of a loved one.

  • A divorce, separation, or breakup of a relationship.

  • Losing custody of children, or feeling that a child custody decision is not fair.

  • A serious loss, such as a loss of a job, house, or money.

  • A serious illness.

  • A terminal illness.

  • A serious accident.

  • Chronic physical pain.

  • Intense emotional pain.

  • Loss of hope.
  • Being victimized (domestic violence, rape, assault, etc).

  • A loved one being victimized (child murder, child molestation, kidnapping, murder, rape, assault, etc.).

  • Physical abuse.

  • Verbal abuse.

  • Sexual abuse.

  • Unresolved abuse (of any kind) from the past.

  • Feeling "trapped" in a situation perceived as negative.

  • Feeling that things will never "get better."

  • Feeling helpless.

  • Serious legal problems, such as criminal prosecution or incarceration.

  • Feeling "taken advantage of."

  • Inability to deal with a perceived "humiliating" situation.

  • Inability to deal with a perceived "failure."

  • Alcohol abuse.

  • Drug abuse.

  • A feeling of not being accepted by family, friends, or society.

  • A horrible disappointment.

  • Feeling like one has not lived up to his or her high expectations or those of another.

  • Bullying. (Adults, as well as children, can be bullied.)

  • Low self-esteem.
Now its interesting to me that many of these depression triggers (italicized by me) can be the result, in young people particularly, of a bad environment - one with abuse, helplessness, drugs, failed expectations and so on.

Recently I watched a documentary called "The War on Kids."  If you have children I strongly urge you to take the time to watch this.  (For views on this film that oppose mine as outlined below go here.)

One of the key points the movie makes is how various policies used to make the school "secure" in fact create the exact environmental issues I outline above: feelings of hopelessness, failure, abuse and so on.

(Now my children are all adults today - the youngest is 28 - and it was fairly obvious to Mrs. Wolf and myself twenty years ago that things were going the "wrong direction" in schools.)

As an example in the movie they describe the notion of "lock down" when something or someone unknown enters the school (creation of a feeling of "helplessness" or being "trapped").

"Lock down" - isn't that a prison term? 

But the kids didn't do anything wrong?

And as a parent how would you feel if there was a known threat in the school, the school was "locked down" and you were prevented access to your child?

Now, to be fair, children's lives today have other problems that involve items on the list above as well, e.g., higher divorce rates.

But the kids spend seven or eight hours a day in a school environment nine months a year.

And unfortunately modern schools look far more like prisons than schools: high security, lock downs, no recourse from bodily and personal searches, zero tolerance for carrying ibuprofen in your purse, prevention from using the restroom, things like this.

They ask: "would these policies work in an adult workplace?"  Would you tolerate being told when you can and cannot use the restroom?  Yet your 18 year old (or 8 year old) in school is told exactly this.

One statistic presented in the movie was that of all the "weapons" charges in a given year among all the US schools 97% did not involve a weapon.  Instead they involved instances of children (often as young as eight) drawing pictures of guns, using objects as guns, talking about guns or knives and so on - all of these often resulting in expulsion due to "zero tolerance" policies.

The documentary points out that, unlike a prison, school not only restrains your physical activity it also tells you what to think: very, very Orwellian.

And because these are children (legally minors) they have no legal recourse when searched, or told what they can or cannot say or draw.

I guess the point for me was this:

I wonder if the high rates of US suicides in kids have anything to do with how they are treated by society and our schools?

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