Suicide Updates

Published on real sociology blog, by blog owner, Nov. 18, 2012.

One of the perennial joys of teaching sociology is returning to the study of suicide every November, a time of year when, with the nights drawing in against a backdrop of fog barren trees, rain and sodden leaves, it seems a most appropriate time to do so. The season of depression, self-harm and suicide is almost upon us after all.

This year  I’ve been looking at popular suicide locations, and there are some interesting contrasts between the two most popular places in the world to commit suicide. 

These two locations are:

1. The Golden Gate Bridge in California – Where more than 1500 people to date have jumped the equivalent of 25 stories and 49/50 succeed due to the massive internal injuries they typically receive on impact.

2. The Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji in Japan – Known as Japan’s suicide forest, in which approximately 100 people kill themselves each year through primarily hanging or poisoning. More people may, in fact, have killed themselves in the forest than at the Golden Gate Bridge, but in recent years the local government has stopped publishing figures in an attempt to downplay the extent of the bleak activity, so we have no accurate overall total number.

These  two locations are obviously very different from each other they are and  I’m left wondering the extent to which the different methods and locations reflect different cultural attitudes to suicide….

The Golden Gate Bridge is a very public place and there is a high degree of spectacle about jumping. As John Bateson, former director of a crisis centre for the depressed and suicidal covering the Bay area, says  “There is kind of allure to the bridge…. a notoriety to be gained from jumping from the Golden Gate. For a brief period people receive an attention in death that may have been denied to them in life.”

Thus in addition to whatever reason these individuals may have for jumping it’s almost as if jumping from the bridge is an expressive act – a kind of ‘look at me and f**k you’ parting message to America. These people could, after all, just quietly overdose in their bedrooms. The fact that most people jump facing towards land offers further support for this notion.

Compare the high drama of the bridge-jump to the Forest – A much more secluded and isolated space where the Japanese choose to die by private methods – The woods in fact being notorious for the ease with which one can get lost because of the density of the trees and the lack of trails. Normally one would associate poisoning as a softer method more associated with a plea for help than the blunt force trauma of the bridge, but I’m inclined to think the opposite is the case here as the isolation of the forest makes it unlikely that one will be found … //

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In Pictures: World Toilet Day, on Al Jazeera, Nov. 19, 2012: With 2.5bn people lacking sanitary conditions, the threat of disease highlighted by Toilet Day is no laughing matter.

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