Declining Young Adult Suicide Rates in the 1990s

Suicide rates among young adults declined markedly in the late 1990s. While there are many explanations as to why this pattern emerged, much evidence points to the introduction of newer antidepressants and an increased awareness among medical practitioners of the issue. Others suggested that the fall might have been due to an improving economy.

Screenshot 2015-11-22 at 8.49.11 AM

In the mid-aughts, suicide rates began to rise again.


Contagion Effects on Campus

Many universities avoid reporting on student deaths as suicides, either out of fear of contagion effects, which have been documented in a number of studies and especially in adolescents, or because of family wishes to protect the student’s privacy. Yet according to both CDC and NIMH guidelines, contagion effects can be mitigated by the way that details of a suicide are reported. Furthermore, some studies show that among youths, any death of a peer, even if not self-inflicted, can increase suicidal thinking and even attempts. Secrecy may thus not be the best solution, but rather informed sensitivity to how information about suicide is shared. The Jed Foundation has compiled a postvention guide for campuses, which is a very useful resource. [link l=]

Guns and Suicide on Campus


The fact that student suicide rates are lower than general population rates is largely attributed to the relative dearth of access to firearms on campus. Guns are the leading method of suicide for men and the second leading method for women in the general population; guns are also the leading method of suicide for male students, but their use is one-third as common among students. [link l=]

Students on campus, however, also have less suicidal ideation than the general public. From a government report:

From U.S. HHS office. (source)
From U.S. HHS office. (source)

See also [[Suicide Clusters]]

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College Suicides Down Slightly

Contrary to public perception, suicides at colleges may be down slightly.

That’s probably because Schwartz’s account of what’s going on is rather nuanced. While anecdotal accounts of ever-more-mentally-ill students abound, he said that “If you look at things that are a bit more carefully, rigorously tracked, like rates of suicide, actually, when rates of suicide were measured in the Big 10 study of colleges” — which looked at university suicides from 1980 to 1990 — “as compared to two surveys that were done in the 2000s that go up to 2009, the rate seems to have gone down slightly.” [link l=””%5D

Of course, there are some demographic trends that must be controlled for here. White men commit suicide at the highest rates, and the proportion of white men at college has shrunk in the past twenty-five years. On the other hand, the college population is also older, and risk for suicide increases throughout a person’s twenties, which should predict an overall increase in suicide rates among college students.  Likewise, the presence of student veterans, who are also at elevated risk, might drive the numbers up.

There are some other risk factors of note (in particular, the risk for transgender students) but it is difficult to see how they might have shifted over time.


The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A 10-Year Study of Suicides on Midwestern University Campuses. (1997) [link l=””%5D

The lower suicide rate on campus has been attributed to the lack of access to firearms on campus. See [w l=”Guns and Suicide on Campus”]

Colleges sometimes are reluctant to report student deaths as suicides, for fear of [w l=”Contagion Effects on Campus”]




Not Your Company’s Date

Consumers don’t like being asked to register with a company to buy something.

We conducted usability tests with people who needed to buy products from the site. We asked them to bring their shopping lists and we gave them the money to make the purchases. All they needed to do was complete the purchase. We were wrong about the first-time shoppers. They did mind registering. They resented having to register when they encountered the page. As one shopper told us, “I’m not here to enter into a relationship. I just want to buy something.” (medium)

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The World a Better Place

The idea that corporations make the world a better place through their products is not unique to Silicon Valley.

Those may not be such big distinctions. “There is a bit of delusion in Silicon Valley that they are not like the other rich because their technology is ‘making the world a better place,’ ” said Steve Hilton, a former aide to Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and a co-founder of, a political start-up. “But McDonald’s and Walmart also think that their businesses help society. Walmart says it lowers the cost of living for poor families. All corporations think they are having a positive impact.” (html)

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Media Influence on Suicide

Suicide rates go up following an increase in the frequency of stories about suicide (e.g., Hagihara et al., 2007). Moreover, suicide rates go down following a decrease in the frequency of stories about suicide (e.g., Motto, 1970). A dose-response relationship between the quantity of reporting on completed suicide and subsequent suicide rates has consistently been demonstrated (e.g., Phillips, 1974; Phillips and Carstensen, 1986; Pirkis et al., 2006). Changes in suicide rates following media reports are more pronounced in regions where a higher proportion of the population is exposed (Etzersdorfer et al., 2004). [ link]

Suicide Clusters

Suicides are not purely stochastic events — one suicide can (and does) often influence others.  Influence can extend not only to probability but also method of execution.

A recent example has occurred in Palo Alto, where a cluster  has taken the lives of four students in the Palo Alto Suicide School District. All four died by suicide along the Caltrain corridor. A previous cluster of five suicides happened in Palo Alto in 2008-09.[ cite]

Cluster suicides are responsible for between 1 to 5% of all suicide deaths.[ cite] Adolescents are most at risk.


The fact that this happened in Palo Alto twice within ten years makes it a rare incidence of an [[Echo Cluster]].

Goffstown NH in the 1990s provides another example.[ cite]

While most people think of suicides as the result of long reflection, the vast majority of sucides are impulsive. See [[Most Suicides Are Impulsive]]

A related issue is suicide contagion, which includes [[Media Influence on Suicide]].

Non-Distribution Constraint

The Non-Distribution Constraint, as explained by Henry Hansmann, “A nonprofit organization is, in essence, an organization that is barred from distributing its net earnings, if any, to individuals who exercise control over it, such as members, officers, directors, or trustees. By ‘net earnings’ I mean here pure profitsthat is, excess of the amount needed to pay for services rendered to the organization; in general, a nonprofit is free to pay reasonable compensation to any person for labor or capital that he provides, whether or not that person exercises some control over the organization. It should be noted that a nonprofit is barred from earning a profit. Many nonprofits in fact consistently show an annual accounting surplus. It is only the distribution of these profits that is prohibited. Net earnings, if any, must be retained and devoted entirely to financing further production of the services that the organization was formed to provide.” (Hansmann 1980, 835) [link l=]



Hansmann outlined this concept a part of his larger [w l=”Contract Failure Theory”].

Contract Failure Theory and Non-Profits

Contract failure theory was first proposed by Henry Hansmann in 1980. It examines what happens in markets where buyers are unable to judge the quality of what they are buying. In such markets, the sellers will be motivated to reduce quality of product to increase profit. According to some theorists, the sort of market failures contract failure theory predicts explain why non-profits are necessary in some industries. [link l=]

As an example, consider a for-profit company — let’s say one owned by stockholders — which serves the needs of the poor in Bangladesh. You donate $1,000 to this for-profit, with the assumption that they will do their best to help the people of Bangladesh.

But there’s a conflict here. The more money that flows to helping the people of Bangladesh, the less money flows to the stockholders. Now if you had a way of evaluating the quality of what the company provided, then the company could become more efficient at helping the poor, and use that efficiency to increase profit through saving money.

The problem is that you don’t have a way to evaluate the quality of the service, so the company is tempted to take the easy way out — increasing profits by reducing quality.

Note that this problem does not exist (at least to this extent) in a normally functioning market. If Samsung wants to increase profits by reducing the quality and features of their phones, you will notice as a buyer and take your business somewhere else.

Contract Failure Theory stipulates that by taking the profit motive of the table, non-profits reduce internal incentives to increase profits by dropping quality

Fundamental to this theory is the idea of the [w l=”Non-Distribution Constraint”] placed on NPOs.
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