By Delthia Ricks
Out-of-towners are traveling to New York with the specific aim of killing themselves, in a phenomenon researchers are calling “suicide tourism,” a Manhattan public health expert reported this week.
Just as people travel to specific cities for sightseeing or to remote regions of the world for complex, but low-cost surgeries, others are seeing New York as their final destination – in life.
Research reported in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association suggest that one in 10 suicides committed in Manhattan alone since 1990 had involved nonresidents.
“It’s very difficult to predict from our data why this is occurring,” said David Vlahov, director of the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies at the New York Academy of Medicine. “We could identify very limited information.”
The data strongly underscore that people are willing to travel great distances, Vlahov said, to end their lives. Most of the out-of-towners who committed suicide were men, predominantly white, followed by Hispanics.
Vlahov and colleagues studied suicides city-wide that occurred between 1990 and 2004 and found that among the 7,634 that were committed, 407 were by nonresidents.
Examining coroners’ reports, Vlahov and colleagues could determine that people had traveled from out of town, and often had come from faraway states and elsewhere in the world.
What leapt surprisingly from the coroners’ files, like a recurrent theme, were specific places chosen to commit the act. The Empire State Building ranked high, as it has for decades among residents. But Times Square and the George Washington Bridge were commonly selected by nonresidents.
“No. 1, we want to draw attention to this and to understand it better,” Vlahov said of this deadly form of tourism. “And No. 2, we want to work on methods of prevention.”
Traveling to well-known sites for suicide is a pattern that has been recognized in other areas, said Christine Cione, community education coordinator with the Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore.
“The same phenomenon occurs in California,” she said. “People commit suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge.
“In any instance when someone travels to commit suicide, there may be a wish that people will see them and somehow try to stop them,” said Cione, who specializes in suicide-prevention counseling. “The reason I say this is because of what I know about San Francisco and passersby who’ve stopped people.”
When strangers intervened, Cione said, those who otherwise would have thrown themselves into the Pacific were grateful they had been stopped. She theorizes that anyone who travels for suicide probably wants to be spotted and stopped.
Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service