Can suicide attempts be rational?

…after people attempt suicide and fail, their incomes increase by an average of 20.6 percent compared to peers who seriously contemplate suicide but never make an attempt. In fact, the more serious the attempt, the larger the boost–”hard-suicide” attempts, in which luck is the only reason the attempts fail, are associated with a 36.3 percent increase in income. (The presence of nonattempters as a control group suggests the suicide effort is the root cause of the boost.)

Here is a link to the original research.

Now, you may wonder, how can this be?

Why should suicide be an economic boon? Once you attempt suicide you suddenly have access to lots of resources–medical care, psychiatric attention, familial love and concern–that were previously expensive or unavailable. Doubters may ask why the depressed don’t seek out resources earlier. But studies have demonstrated that psychological and familial resources become “cheaper” after a suicide attempt: It is difficult to find free medical care when you are sad, but once you try to kill yourself, it’s forced on you.

So what should we do? The article, the source of this post, suggests “well funded educational campaigns”. A cynical economist might suggest social stigma for suicide, rather than forgiveness. Personally, I suspect that few people attempt suicide for the resulting free medical care, but rather for the attention. We can’t precommit to ignoring them, so perhaps we are simply stuck. I invite Alex to offer some suggestions on how to limit the number of suicides; keep in mind it is a bigger killer in the United States than is homicide.

Addendum: Thanks to Fabio for the pointer. And Eric Crampton suggests the following: “I have a different take on the suicide post – mean reversion. Assume that people are hit with heterogeneous shocks, positive and negative. If people are most likely to commit suicide at the worst point (after the biggest negative shock), then future income increases are just mean reversion. People who just contemplate it have had negative shocks, but not as strongly negative.”


Comments for this post are closed