Suicide vs. Homicide by State, per 100,000

In the latest Freakonomics Radio podcast,'The Suicide Paradox," we explore, among other things, why suicide is twice as prevalent in the U.S. as murder. From the CDC, here's a breakdown of state-by-state suicide and homicide rates.

More Evidence of Blue Monday Effect?

A new study by two economists from the University of British Columbia, John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang, shows that Americans are happier on weekends. This is more true for men than for women, as well as for married couples.

Abstract here:

This paper exploits the richness and large sample size of the Gallup/Healthways US daily poll to illustrate significant differences in the dynamics of two key measures of subjective well-being: emotions and life evaluations. We find that there is no day-of-week effect for life evaluations, represented here by the Cantril Ladder, but significantly more happiness, enjoyment, and laughter, and significantly less worry, sadness, and anger on weekends (including public holidays) than on weekdays. We then find strong evidence of the importance of the social context, both at work and at home, in explaining the size and likely determinants of the weekend effects for emotions. Weekend effects are twice as large for full-time paid workers as for the rest of the population, and are much smaller for those whose work supervisor is considered a partner rather than a boss and who report trustable and open work environments. A large portion of the weekend effects is explained by differences in the amount of time spent with friends or family between weekends and weekdays (7.1 vs. 5.4 hours). The extra daily social time of 1.7 hours in weekends raises average happiness by about 2%.

Are the Benefits of Prescription Drugs Large Enough to Excuse Overdose Deaths?

That is the question I found myself asking while looking at a new Centers for Disease Control report that analyzes drug-overdose deaths in Florida from 2003-2009. I am guessing the answer is a resounding yes, but it's probably a question worth asking. During that period, the death rate for prescription drugs rose 84.2 percent, from 7.3 to 13.4 per 100,000 people. (Note that these numbers represent unintentional deaths, not suicides -- although when you're talking about death by drugs, the intention isn't always clear.) Interestingly, the death rate from illicit drugs -- primarily heroin and cocaine -- has fallen 21.4 percent, to 3.4 per 100,000 people.

The Suicide Attempt That Ended With a Kiss

Having just completed an hour-long radio program on suicide, and having just visited mainland China for the first time, I was drawn to this incredibly moving story from Shenzhen, by Shi Yingying in China Daily:

Like a real life version of Snow White, Liu Wenxiu's kiss literally saved the life of a 16-year-old boy.

Liu just passing by a pedestrian bridge in downtown Shenzhen on June 11 when she spotted hundreds of onlookers watching a young man with a knife in his hand, threatening to jump.

"I saw him get more and more excited - everybody around was just looking, nobody was trying to step up and help," said Liu, a 19-year-old hotel waitress.

"He had to be saved - because I've been there before and I knew exactly how it was," continued Liu, who had attempted suicide several times. ...

"He told me he didn't have a home anymore, nobody cared about him and no one trusted him. I said nothing but showed him the scars on my right wrist. ... With the boy crying even harder, Liu knew he had a sense of being understood.

Freakonomics Radio, Hour-long Episode 3: "The Suicide Paradox"

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 third hour-long episode 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.

Why Can't You Buy a Big Bottle of Headache Pills in England?

Last time I was in London I had a headache, and went to the nearest Boots to buy something for it.

In U.S. drugstores, I'm accustomed to finding half an aisle devoted to headache pills, with bottles ranging from small to very large -- at least 200 pills in them. So that's what I went looking for in Boots, but no such bottle was to be found. The only options were cardboard packets containing maybe 20 pills, with each pill in its own blister packet. (The pills were also larger than U.S. pills.) Hmm, I thought. I guess Boots finds it can charge a lot for a small amount of headache medicine since most people, when they have a headache, aren't very price-conscious.

But I recently learned the real reason for this phenomenon while interviewing David Lester, a psychologist at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey who is the dean of suicide (and death) research. (We are producing an hour-long Freakonomics Radio special on suicide.) We were discussing the efficacy of SSRI's on treating depression (and fighting suicide) when he explained why it's hard to find a big bottle of headache pills in England:

Suicides Now More Plentiful Than Traffic Deaths

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) early projections, the number of traffic fatalities fell three percent between 2009 and 2010, from 33,808 to 32,788. Continuing what is now a 25 percent drop since 2005, when there were 43,510 traffic deaths.

Fighting Suicide Bombers: What Works?

Efraim Benmelech, Claude Berrebi and Esteban F. Klor have already argued that a bad economy equals deadlier terrorists. Now, the three economists have turned their attention to the effects of house demolitions on terrorism.

When Suicide Pays

Is a hidden incentive leading workers at a Chinese tech factory to kill themselves?

Fewer Murders, More Suicide?

GOOD produced this sharp info-graphic on murder rates worldwide. One interesting trend it doesn't show: countries with lower murder rates tend to have higher rates of suicide. Take Japan, which has one of the lowest murder rates in the world — just 0.5 per 100,000 people. It also has a very high rate of suicide, 23.7 per 100,000. Jamaica, on the other hand, has an unusually high murder rate — 49 per 100,000 — and the unusually low suicide rate of 0.35 per 100,000.