Episode #103

The Suicide Paradox

Airs Friday, June 17 and Wednesday, June 29 at 3PM on 93.9 FM and 8PM on AM 820

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Friday, June 17, 2011

There are twice as many suicides in the U.S. each year than murders. And yet the vast majority of them aren’t discussed at all. Unlike homicide, which is considered a fracturing of our social contract, suicide is considered a shameful problem whose victims -- and solutions – are rarely the focus of wide debate.  In this hour of Freakonomics Radio, we’ll push back suicide taboos, profiling who is most likely to commit this act (and least likely), and what we know about them.  African-Americans, for instance, commit suicide at half the rate of whites, for reasons tied to everything from racism to faith.  And we'll consider the opinion of those who see suicide as a rational act. The biggest surprise – the suicide paradox – is that suicide rates rise as does a country’s standard of living. To some, this makes suicide (gulp) a luxury good.

Comments [12]

Geekoid from Tualatin, Or.

Google lead me here when I was looking up 'Verta'. Since no one answered a previous poster, and I found the answer I thought I would leave it ere for people who look later.
It's 'Werther effect' It's German so the 'W' is pronouned like a 'v' in English.

Sep. 05 2013 10:09 AM
shira keyes

Perhaps I missed something in the segment of your show dealing with Carolyn Heilbrun. Or did
I ? Carolyn Heilbrun - Virginia Woolf scholar(sic!). Perhaps your story overlooked a plausible connection between the scholarly life and a scholar's death.

Jul. 17 2011 09:23 PM

Persons who value their lifes low tend to commit suicide more often than persons who value their lives high.

Persons who commit suicide make rational deliberations, weighing pros and cons like when you buy a car.

Are the arguments along those lines serious? Persons who prefer pears before apples tend to eat more pears than those who prefers apples.

How many of those who commit suicide suffer from psychiatric diseases? Impossible to tell, since the statistics only capture the obvious cases, those who are diagnosed. Among those who commit suicide you find persons perfectly rational and psychotics.

Many economists should try to resist the temptation to tamper with highly complex psychological matters (the smug guy interviewed). Most of them shoud try to resist the temptation to apply their simplistic theories on reality. Macro economic suicide on a global scale might make a lot of bankers and hedge fund managers jump from high buildings.

And this is the MYSTERY: Why not ask those who have tried to commit suicide why they did it? Why not read the letters and notes written by those who actually killed themself? Because you cant stand the pain?

Jun. 19 2011 07:32 PM
Dana from Brooklyn, NY

I found the book referenced in this episode for those who are interested.

Title: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

It's available on Amazon in all formats.

Jun. 17 2011 10:35 PM
Robert from NYC

Having worked for 4 years at a NYC suicide hotline our first task was to evaluate, as well as we could, whether how suicidal a person was feeling at that moment. This involved asking a series of increasingly specific questions regarding whether the person was just thinking about it, or had a plan and means to carry it out that plan.
We kept the more seriously suicidal patients on the line trying to dissuade them or get them immediate medical help.

Jun. 17 2011 08:20 PM
Ken from NJ

Death and his Brother Sleep (‘Morphine’)

There’s a mirror likeness between those two shining, youthfully-fledged figures,
though one seems paler than the other and more austere, I might even say more perfect, more distinguished,than he, who would take me confidingly in his arms –how soft then and loving his smile, how blessed his glance!

Then, it might well have been that his wreath of white poppies gently touched my forehead, at times,and drove the pain from my mind with its strange scent.

But that is transient. I can only, now, be well,when the other one, so serious and pale,the older brother, lowers his dark torch. –

Sleep is so good, Death is better, yet surely never to have been born is best.

Heinrich Heine

Jun. 17 2011 06:29 PM
adrienne from NYC

This program really confounds me, it excludes the obvious. Without a larger perspective of the world, weather that is through religion or some other vision that asks us to contemplate, thoughfully, our history and how others suffer, that one is not alone, it's obvious that without such an awareness, people can become vulnerable to suicide.

I am not speaking of people with serious mental illness, or people in extreme situations but everyday people who have a generally good quality of life.

Jun. 17 2011 04:06 PM
Dana from Brooklyn, NY

Great episode. Very informative. What was the name of the book published in the 1700's mentioned at the beginning of the show? Verta, Verti,????

Jun. 17 2011 04:02 PM
Rich K from UC, NJ

Pete Fornatale told a story to my undergrad media class that always stuck with me. He was on the air overnight at WNEW-FM, when a distraught listener called asking for help. A friend had called, threatening to commit suicide. the friend wouldn't say where he was, but the caller could hear WNEW on in the background. Pete recalled an article about how the Swedish suicide rate dropped when Radio Sweden began 24 hour broadcasts. He told it over the air, ending with "so whether you're in Stockholm or New York, we're here, we care, and so do your friends and family." He started his next song, and every light on the phone lit, with each caller asking more or less the same question - "how did you know?"

Jun. 17 2011 03:43 PM
Roger Runnalls from Wantage, NJ

in this totally materialistic, consumption-oriented world, i'm sure suicide is directly proportional to a person's materialistic expectations and whether or not they are achieving them.

Jun. 17 2011 02:36 PM
Roger Runnalls from Wantage, NJ

in this totally materialistic, consumption-oriented world, i'm sure suicide is directly proportional to a person's materialistic expectations and whether or not they are achieving them.

Jun. 17 2011 02:36 PM
Katherine from NY-NJ area

As a former suicidal patient and now a peer counselor in a psychiatric hospital, I can say that the rapid and brusk manner by which patients are treated by many psychiatrists hinders recovery. Suicide is a crisis, a hopelessness, and some doctors act as if they're treating a splinter.

Jun. 17 2011 11:03 AM

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