I’m worried about whatseventhepoint on /r/self

This self-post was originally posted to /r/SuicideWatch. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

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Posted 3 hours ago; sounds like they could do with some help:

I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve exhausted any little hope I’d had, and now there’s nothing.

I just want it to be over. By any means necessary.


TIL that “Lawnchair” Larry Walters, who flew to 16,000 feet using weather balloons tied to a lawn chair in 1982, shot himself eleven years later.

This link was originally posted to /r/todayilearned. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

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LARRY WALTERS FOUND FAME AT 16.000 feet. On July 2,1982, the 33-year-old truck driver rigged 42 helium-filled weather balloons to a Sears lawn chair in San Pedro, Calif., and, as friends looked on in wondrous support, lifted off. The sight of Walters floating in the sky shocked pilots, who radioed perplexed local air-traffic controllers. Walters returned to Earth by using a pellet gun to shoot out some of the balloons and landed safely about 10 miles away in Long Beach. The 45-minute stunt earned him an appearance on The Tonight Show as well as a spot in a Timex watch ad, after which he quit his job to deliver motivational speeches. “People ask me if I had a death wish,” he said. “I tell them no, it was something I had to do.”

But the attention didn’t bring enduring happiness. Walters and his girlfriend of 15 years, who had helped him pay for his adventure, ended their relationship. His speaking career fizzled, and he worked only sporadically as a security guard. He sought solace by reading the Bible and walking in the San Gabriel Mountains, where he worked as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service. “It seemed like Larry came to the mountains because he was disappointed with the way his life was going,” says his friend Joyce Rios, a fellow volunteer ranger.

On Oct. 6, unable to deal with the world he had briefly delighted, Walters, 44, hiked to a favorite spot in the Angeles National Forest and ended his life with a single bullet through the heart. His mother, Hazel Dunham, did not disclose his death until Nov. 22. Although Walters did not write a suicide note, he had left a Bible with several passages marked at Dunham’s house in Mission Viejo, just before his death. Among them was John 16:32: “Indeed the hour is coming…each to his own, and will leave me alone. And yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.”


Googling for Suicide, Part II

You may remember that earlier this year I wrote a letter to Google suggesting that they ought to publicise the number of Samaritans to people searching for suicide-related topics: sort-of like a free Featured Link, but just advertising the phone number of a support service that, in particular, provides emotional support to those who are having suicidal thoughts.

Well, it seems that now they’ve done it (click on the image below to see a larger version).

The top of the search results when performing a Google search for 'suicide' in the UK.

I’d like to think that I played a small part in making this happen. Thanks, Google.

Googling For Suicide In The UK

I sent a letter to Google, today. Click to see it in large-o-vision.

I my letter, I suggest that the search giant should add a feature to their UK search, as they already have to their USA search, that would provide the details of an appropriate emotional support helpline service to people searching for suicide-related topics (such as “how to commit suicide”, etc.). This would provide minimal disruption to users merely interested in the topic, but could potentially provide a critical lifeline to somebody in dire need.

Just thought I’d share that with you.

Update: Google have now made the change I suggested! Read more about it here.

Talking About Suicide – A Revelation

“Asking about suicidal feelings cannot ‘put the idea into a caller’s head.'” If you’ve ever worked in a listening organisation that will openly talk about suicidal feelings, like a branch of Samaritans or a university Nightline, you’re likely to have heard this said. In virtually every training group to which talking about suicide is first mentioned, a trainee will ask “But if they’re not actively suicidal, might mentioning it give them it as an idea?” And the answer is no.

This is an important part of the work of these – and similar – organisations. While their manifesto may already state that they are there to talk about whatever feelings are on the mind of their caller, it’s still seen as necessary, sometimes, to remind the caller that yes, it’s really okay to talk about anything at all… even about ending their own life. Showing that it’s okay can open the door to really exploring the caller’s feelings and can make all the difference to somebody in a state of suicidal despair.

What I’d like to share with you is the evolution of a certain subset thoughts about suicide.

Talking About Suicide – A Revelation
(or How I Proved Myself Wrong Twice But Still Got The Right Answer)

Up to as recently as five or six years ago I was of the opinion that certain anti-suicide measures were pointless. I’m talking about building anti-suicide fences on bridges (like the Memorial Bridge in Maine), the installation of platform-edge doors on London’s Jubilee Line (mentioned in this article and shown in this video), and the restriction of the number of analgesics like paracetamol and aspirin that can be bought in one transaction, since 1998. I could not understand that this could possibly work. Suicide is almost invariably a pre-meditated act, and so access is removed to one means of doing away with oneself, you’ll simply use another – and there’s no shortage of ways to take your life.

Then, one day, I discovered that it doesn’t necessarily work like that.

Anti-suicide fences can be statistically proven to reduce not only the frequency of suicides at the site at which they are installed, but throughout the region – if suicide were, as I had believed, unaffected by availability of any one particular means of committing the act – then I would anticipate that a comparable, perhaps only slightly fewer, number of suicides would take place. Switching coal gas to natural gas in Britain in the 1960s was linked to a reduction in suicides on the whole (Kreitman, 1976), and only a smaller increase in suicide rates by other means. Similar studies in the US have shown that reducing the availability of firearms reduces suicide rates more than would be expected if the “saved” would simply switch to a different method.

So it turned out I was wrong. Reducing the availability of means of suicide really can have an impact on suicide rates, as if suicide really were a spontaneous thing (“I’m feeling so low… I could just – hey, look, a rope just hanging there; that’s convenient – well, go on then…”). But those who commit suicide often seem to have planned the act for some time before. Some have been known to have repeatedly visited what would eventually become the site of their death for months or even years before eventually taking their lives. Those who throw themselves under trains sometimes keep visiting their station of choice – unnoticed by staff as they mingle in with the commuter crowd – in order to determine where trains travel the fastest and which trains don’t stop at all. This fact has since been used to provide training to station staff in spotting these people in advance – another suicide prevention strategy.

What does this mean for talking to callers about suicide? When I learnt about these kinds of studies, I started to question what I “knew.” After all, if it’s true that passing a particularly high bridge can be sufficient to push a suicidally depressed person over the edge, so to speak, how could I possibly argue that it wasn’t the case that encouraging that same person to talk about their suicidal feelings would have the same effect. After all, aren’t both the same thing: making suicide seem like an acceptable option by making it more approachable – physically, in the case of the bridge, and more mentally paletable in the case of a caring ear who does not disapprove of your right to terminate your own life. This caused me a significant amount of cognitive dissonance (thanks, Changing Minds!) and I had to put a hold on my volunteer work in this area while I resolved it. As I put it at the time, I had “lost my faith” in the process I promoted.

And that could have been the end of the story. But I’m not a fan of unanswered questions in my mind, and I put a great deal of thought into suicide prevention and into talking about suicide.

Eventually I was able to resolve it. For a while, this resolution was simply based on “what felt right”: I came to the conclusion that seeing a bridge and talking about suicidal thoughts and feeling are actually quite distinct: the former is about the means to perform the action, whereas the latter is about the space to express the feeling. This was enough to put me back on track and, ultimately, make me far more comfortable. Later, I came across psychological studies that backed up that belief, like those referenced by the impressively-titled Scientific Foundations of Cognitive Theory and Therapy of Depression, by David A. Clak, Aaron Beck, and Brad A. Alford.

But for a while there, I wondered.

Further Reading

If I haven’t made you do so already, take a look at chapter 4 of Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert B. Cialdini, which I reviewed some time ago. I’m currently reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell. Both of these books go into great deal about social proof and contagion and how what happens around us can have a huge effect on how we behave as a society, even leading to streaks of suicide or violent crime. For serious psychology in an easy-to-read and enjoyable format, I thoroughly recommend the Changing Minds website. And if you’re still interested, follow some of my links, above – many of them, combined with a little Google-fu or Wikipedia-surfing, are great starting points for further research.