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.


Roy said...

I think it's all those lights. Messes up your circadian rhythm or something. Or maybe the electromagnetic radiation. Or the abundance of Elvi.

Anonymous said...

if you want to get away somewhere to off yourself do you want to spend a lot of dough? no. there are always cheap flights to vegas because they want you to come and gamble so it is a draw for suicidal people. also, anywhere you find gambling, you will find all the other vices and if you have a tough time tracking down enough stuff to do yourself in back home in hicksville, you ought not to have any trouble in vegas.and, if you sit though a show by some has been you have even more reason to want to kill yourself

FooFoo5 said...

It's so funny, Dinah, that I was stuck in traffic & heard the same story. My immediate thought was, "Didn't the movie Leaving Las Vegas speak to this issue?" Or at least feed every stereotype I have of the place. But without knowing "why." as researchers as my university discovered, just publishing a major study on suicide raises the immediate, short-term incidence rate of suicide in a Werther Effect by as much as 30%. Somehow, as a kid, standing in the alley watching the gentlemen throw dice against the wall, money on the ground, laughing and passing around Johnny Walker Red, seems, in retrospect, & lot less desperate & a whole lot safer!

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know how the percentages break down on the suicides, residents vs. tourists or transients.

Dr. Pink Freud said...

Compromised judgement (perhaps, due to alcohol), the onset of a new addiction (gambling), with serious and rapid consequences (financially, emotionally, socially), desperation, the intervening variables are too many to count. It's likely that an extremely interaction of individual characteristics, combined with the unique Vega atmosphere offer up a recipe for disaster.

Anonymous said...

What has struck me whenever I have been to Las Vegas (for conventions) is how UNHAPPY the gamblers look. Have you looked at the faces of people at slot machines? They look intense and unhappy and then do not smile even if they are big winners. Around the tables there is high anxiety. Alcohol is often served free to gamblers which would enhance any feeling of desperation or impending doom and release the inhibition to more gambling. No wonder people commit suicide there.

I heard the same story while I drove home from teaching and thought it perfect for your blog.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood the compulsion to gamble (or denial of house odds, for that matter).

We stopped in Vegas the last night of our honeymoon, and I played two whole dollars on the slots. What's the attraction of losing your money the majority of the time? I'd rather keep the money or spend it on something fun.

Why go if it makes them anxious and unhappy?

Doc said...

I'd love to see in vivo Dopamine activity levels on those who have just stopped gambling (crashed) in Vegas and those with depression. I'd bet there's a similar pattern.

Doc said...

Roy, first reading, I thought you wrote "the abundance of Evil."

Same difference?

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of Mormons there - maybe it has something to do with that. said...

Many who move here aren't people who live in a great place, have a great job, and are happy with their life.

There is a divide. Those who move to Las Vegas from the west coast simply know it as a fun, dry, warm weather town and it isn't any different than moving to Phoenix.

However... those moving from the east (and especially the rust belt) are often moving here in a last ditch search of a mythical better life.

When these people get here and find out that their problems follow them, the "high" of being in Las Vegas goes away. If you didn't get along with people where you lived, you won't get along here. If you had trouble holding a job where you lived, you'll have even more trouble holding one here where there are so many distractions.

I've lived here 16 years, been broke and done well, and never (ever) even in any extended circle of friends have heard of someone anyone I knew (even a friend of a friend of a friend) taking their own life.

Take the report with a grain of salt.

Ted Newkirk
Managing Editor
Access Vegas
Access Vegas Insider Vibe Blog