No One Left to Blame

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner invite us to think like a freak about the unpleasant topic of suicide:

There are about 38,000 suicides a year in the United States, more than twice the number of homicides. Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death for nearly every age group. Because talking about suicide carries such a strong moral taboo, these facts are little known.

As of this writing, the U.S. homicide rate is lower than it’s been in fifty years. The rate of traffic fatalities is at a historic low, having fallen by two-thirds since the 1970s. The overall suicide rate, meanwhile, has barely budged — and worse yet, suicide among 15- to 24-year-olds has tripled over the past several decades.

One might think, therefore, that by studying the preponderance of cases, society has learned everything possible about what leads people to commit suicide.

David Lester, a psychology professor at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, has likely thought about suicide longer, harder, and from more angles than any other human. In more than twenty-five-hundred academic publication, he has explored the relationship between suicide and, among other things, alcohol, anger, antidepressants, astrological signs, biochemistry, blood type, body type, depression, drug abuse, gun control, happiness, holidays, Internet use, IQ, mental illness, migraines, the moon, music, national-anthem lyric, personality type, sexuality, smoking, spirituality, TV watching, and wide-open spaces.

Has all this study led Lester to some grand unified theory of suicide? Hardly. So far he has one compelling notion. It’s what might be called the “no one left to blame” theory of suicide. While one might expect that suicide is highest among people whose lives are the hardest, research by Lester and others suggests the opposite: suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life.

“If you’re unhappy and you have something to blame your unhappiness on — if it’s the government, or the economy, or something — then that kind of immunizes you against committing suicide,” he says. “It’s when you have no external cause to blame for your unhappiness that suicide becomes more likely. I’ve used this idea to explain why African-Americans have lower suicide rates, why blind people whose sight is restored often become suicidal, and why adolescent suicide rates often rise as their quality of life gets better.”

That said, Lester admits that what he and other experts know about suicide is dwarfed by what is unknown.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Yes, Levitt, who said back in 2008:

    I voted for Obama because I wanted to tell my grandchildren that I voted for Obama. And I thought that he would be the greatest president in history.

    So of course you can’t blame the government now that our Lord and Saviour Barry is chief!

    While June 2015 saw the lowest labor force participation rate in the US since October of 1977, but i guess that’s a Fox News conspiracy, because according to Obama the economy is growing, so no blame there, it’s all fine and dandy folks!

    Youth unemployment itself is even worse at near great depression levels, half of college students have to move back in with their parents after graduating, good times.

    Don’t get me started on psychotropic prescription medications, especially the SSRI class of drugs, which in patients age 15-25 is known to enhance the risk of extreme violence, either against oneself or others! To quote Karl Denninger, who says further:

    Despite these black box warnings and publications related to same there has been zero action taken to curtail their use. But if we’re going to actually do something we have to look at why it is that these incidents have been occurring and what has changed. What’s changed is not hard to determine; these drugs have shown up on the market, and there is a clear documented association between certain subgroups by age in the population consuming them and both suicide and extreme rage. We do not know why that side effect shows up only in that subpart of the population, but that it does is well-established at this point.

    Yet they talk about unknown externalities…

  2. Slovenian Guest says:

    More fun facts and again paraphrasing Karl:

    Anti-depressants are the third most-prescribed type of drug in the United States, nearly one in four women is currently taking anti-depressants — and one in seven men. But the fun part is that two thirds of the people taking those drugs do not meet clinical criteria for the use of said substance — and almost 40% don’t meet any of the secondary criteria for which it is sometimes prescribed either, according to a study which appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

    We must cut the crap in this regard; those who hand these pills out like candy are doing severe damage to the general public and the concept that one in four women needs to be medicated due to mood swings is an outrage. How many outrages such as this do you need, America, before you get off your ass and put a stop to any of them?

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