The Grim Odds of a Spectacular Suicide

When a 21-year-old Yale student jumped to his death from the Empire State Building on March 30, 2010, he joined a rather small, sad club: the iconic skyscraper has seen only about 30 such suicides since it went up in 1931. About 3.5 million people visit the Empire State Building’s observation deck each year, which means the odds a visitor will leap to his or her death are less than one in a million.

Jumping deaths are fairly frequent, however. Thirty-one people committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2009 alone. The odds a person who committed suicide did so by jumping from a high place are 1 in 45.5. (Females are more likely to use the method—1 in 32.04 vs. 1 in 50.9 for males.) Overall, suicide by jumping is more common than by hanging, drowning, or hara-kiri, though not as common as by firearms or poison. Among men, using a firearm is by far the most popular method, used in 1 in 1.7 (59%) male suicides. The most common method for women is poison—1 in 2.63 chooses it.

The student, Cameron Dabaghi, was relatively typical by some other, sad measures:

  • The odds a person who committed suicide was aged 20-24 are 1 in 12.62, but only 1 in 14.7 of us are in that age range.
  • The odds a person will commit suicide in a year are 1 in 9,249, but the odds a male will do so are a good deal higher: 1 in 5,694.
  • His choice of day and month beat the odds slightly too. The odds a person who committed suicide did so on a Tuesday are 1 in 6.51—a little better than an even 1 in 7. And the odds a person who committed suicide did so in March are 1 in 11.54—slightly higher than an even 1 in 12.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. A 2008 survey found that 15% had “seriously considered” killing themselves and over 5% had attempted it.

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