where you can live for nothing, there’s nothing to live for


Today’s CODE WORD: explain this map.


21 thoughts on “where you can live for nothing, there’s nothing to live for

  1. chm

    Higher suicide rate correlates with some combination of isolation, high incidence of gun ownership, and probably 10 other factors.

  2. Anne

    Yeah, I immediately thought of gun ownership, too. “Hunting states” seem to have more suicides, although I don’t know enough about northern California to understand the correlation there.
    Living in the West (of the U.S.) is dangerous? Depressing? Violent? We in the Northeast look benign in comparison.
    Big open landscapes make people feel insignificant and powerless?
    Overall education levels?
    I give up!

  3. Aaron

    While I agree that high gun ownership may explain some of this, I would also be interested in the actual number of suicides and in which counties they were found. Some of the counties are so small out in the west that one suicide might tip the scales per capita in a very skewed way.
    You could argue that even one suicide is a big deal if there are only 20,000 people in a county, but that seems statistically misleading to me.

  4. Salem's Little Sister

    The huge swath of red on this map covering a large portion of the West is also know as the “Mormon Corridor.”

  5. chm

    If we were talking about one sparsely populated county, yes, point taken. But since we’re talking about possibly hundreds of them trending the same way…

  6. Alan

    No correlation for outdoorsy when you look at Minn., northern NY or northern Maine…or New Jersey. Here is an idea. Can you cross reference a mapping overlay of where minor league baseball is played or AM radio listenership levels? Just a hunch.

  7. CM

    It would be better if the statistic was based on percentage of white males who commit suicide in teh area, rather than just a flat number, as an area that has very few white males among its population of 100,000 is also going to have few white male suicides (duh). That said, it is still a curious finding. It just may be misleading in certain areas that have fewer white males than others.

  8. Jody

    Compelling map – I think has statistical presentation problems. Although the per capita may be accurate, the density of population spread over an entire state is a biting but inaccurate presentation. Coloring the entire state red, as in Nevada, looks completely alarming but isn’t close to the correct distribution.
    Some of these Western states have 600,000 or less, usually in one or two places. The map suffers from a lack of “contour analysis”.

  9. anon

    Perhaps also has something to do with these areas having a predominately white, aging population. See following:
    “While suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, with 11 suicide deaths per 100,000 Americans, white men over the age of 65 commit suicide at almost triple that overall rate. These men are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than are women of the same age group, and have almost twice the rate of all other groups of male contemporaries (see Figure 1).”
    National Center for Health Statistics, Health, United States, 2005

  10. Paul G

    That quote makes me think of “Death of a Salesman,” which is one of my all-time favorites, but one I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read again.

  11. Cris

    I would be curious to see if there are data on distributions of suicide (based on coroner reports) vs. suicide attempts (based on hospital admissions, for example) and whether those are different. If, for example, the frequency of suicide attempts appears relatively constant across the US but successful suicides are more heavily clustered in the areas shown on the map – we might hypothesize that people who contemplate suicide in those areas are simply more likely to choose methods with a greater chance of success. As mentioned above, that could be because people in these areas have more frequent access to guns, may be more distant from neighbors, so less opportunity for intervention, etc. Alternatively, if both successful suicides and unsuccessful attempts are concentrated in these areas, then it suggests there’s something going on in this population that prompts them to contemplate suicide more frequently than people in other parts of the country. I don’t know why that would be.

  12. Neva

    I’m with CM. Unless the denominator is purely white men this variation is more a factor of racial distribution because the red states are more white predominate.

  13. Anon

    There was a fascinating article in the NYT Magazine on suicide prevention — not in terms of early intervention or therapy, etc., but rather in terms of the effectiveness of using actual physical barriers to suicide. My takeaway from the article was that suicide is very much an act of opportunity, and that placing even a minor barrier in the way actually saves lives.
    The best example the article gave was an intersection in the Adam’s Morgan / Cleveland Park area of NW Washington DC. There are 2 bridges over the Rock Creek Parkway within a few hundred feet of each other. Apparently the one going towards Adam Morgan had a relatively low barrier (stomach high?), while the one going towards Dupont Circle had a higher fence (shoulder high?). Not surprisingly, more people jumped of the Adam’s Morgan span — enough that someone finally proposed putting in a “jump barrier” on the Adam’s Morgan span. The obvious reply was “well, the people will just walk a block over and jump off the Connecticut Avenue span”.
    Eventually the barrier was built anyway, and in fact people did NOT start jumping off the other span more. The article says it better than I just did — but apparently the difference between a shoulder high wall and a stomach high wall is enough of a deterrent to prevent many suicides.
    This research obviously has huge implications for suicide and guns.
    Here’s a link to the full article:

  14. chm

    Any single-factor explanation is likely to come up wanting for the more or less simple fact that people commit suicides for any number of reasons. Likely, there are three or four or more factors that drive rates up significantly, and the red places on the map are places where a couple of these factors are at work simultaneously. Given the map, I have a hard time believing that high gun ownership rates is not one of those factors.

  15. LB

    The correct answer is:
    People are not very self aware in Jersey.
    Also contributing: the troubled, poetic souls of the Great American West and their unwillingness to accept the gossamer-thin self affirmations that suffice to paper over the abyss for us macaroni-soft Easterners.
    Hang in there, Blue States!


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