Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas

I got stuck in traffic, all alone, just me and NPR, talk radio. There's a story on about the suicide rate in Las Vegas. I didn't know it was higher than the rest of the country-- is that surprising? Oh, but for people who leave, the rate goes down, and for people who enter, the rate goes up. It's like something's in the water there (or maybe in some other substances?)

From today's Las Vegas Sun reporter Marshall Allen writes--

The study, which will be published in the December edition of the peer-reviewed journal Social Science & Medicine, challenges one of the common attitudes about suicide in Las Vegas, Wray said. There’s a general resistance by Las Vegas leaders to admit the extent of the problem, he said, and suicide prevention is “not at the top of anyone’s agenda.”

“Given the magnitude of the problem, one can argue it should be,” he said.

The study does not answer the Las Vegas version of the chicken and egg conundrum: Are suicidal people attracted to Las Vegas, or does something about the city lead people to kill themselves?

The scenarios that explain the high rate of suicides in Las Vegas vary and need further research, Wray said.

“One would be ‘gambler despair’ — someone visits Las Vegas, bets his house away and decides to end it all,” he said. “Another would be that those predisposed to suicide disproportionately choose Las Vegas to reside or visit. And, finally, there may be a ‘contagion’ effect where people are emulating the suicides of others ... Some people may be going there intent on self-destruction.”

Wray said the evidence points to something about Las Vegas that causes more suicides. The finding that suicide risk remains high in Las Vegas while there are declines in other counties suggests there could be something harmful about the city, Wray said. He also noted the finding that the risk of suicide is reduced when people leave Las Vegas.

“If suicide was really about the people, it seems they would take their suicide risk with them,” he said. Experts have speculated that problems with addiction to gambling and drugs and alcohol, lack of mental health resources and rapid growth also may contribute to the suicide problem.