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Suicidal Gestures at Princeton: A Staggering Increase

Posted Aug 03 2013 12:00am

A friend of mine knows a former (retired) head of psychological services at Princeton University. She told him that in the 1970s, there were one or two suicidal gestures per year. Recently, however, there have been one or two per day.

Something is terribly, horribly wrong. Maybe the increase is due to something at Princeton. For example, maybe new dorms are more isolating than the old dorms they replaced. Or maybe the increase has nothing to do with Princeton. For example, maybe the increase is due to antidepressants, much more common now than in the 1970s.

Whatever the cause, tt would help all Princeton students, present and future, and probably millions of others, if the problem were made public so that anyone, not just a vanishingly small number of people, could try to solve it. It isn’t even clear that anyone is trying to explain/understand/learn from the increase.

Princeton almost surely has records that show the increase. If, as is likely, Princeton administrators never allow the increase to be documented, it will be a tragedy. It is an extraordinary and unprecedented clue about what causes suicidal gestures. Nothing in all mental health epidemiology has found a change by factor of a hundred or more much less a mysterious huge change.

The increase is an unintended consequence of something else, but what? Because it is so large, there must be something extremely important that most people, or at least Princeton administrators, don’t understand about mental health. The answer might involve seeing faces at night. I found that seeing faces in the morning produced an enormous boost in mood and that faces at night had the opposite effect. I cannot say, however, why seeing faces at night would have increased so much from the 1970s to now.

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