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Suicide Hotspots Of The World

[Content warning: suicide, rape, child abuse. Thanks to MC for some help with research.]

I.

Guyana has the highest national suicide rate in the world, 30 people per year per 100,000. Guyana has poverty and crime and those things, but no more so than neighboring Brazil (suicide rate of 6) or Venezuela (suicide rate of 4). What’s going on?

One place to start: Guyana is a multi-ethnic country. Is its sky-high suicide rate focused in one ethnic group? The first answer I found was this article by a social justice warrior telling us it constitutes racial “essentialism” to even ask the question. But in the process of telling us exactly what kind of claims we should avoid, she mentions someone bringing up that “80% of the reported suicides are carried out by Indo-Guyanese”. I feel like one of those classicists who has reconstructed a lost heresy through hostile quotations in Irenaeus.

Indo-Guyanese aren’t American Indians; they’re from actual India. Apparently thousands of Indians immigrated to Guyana as indentured laborers in the late 1800s. Most went to Guyana, and somewhat fewer went to neighboring Suriname. Suriname also has a sky-high suicide rate, but slightly less than Guyana’s, to the exact degree that its Indian population is slightly less than Guyana’s. Basically no Indians went anywhere else in South America, and nowhere else in South America has anywhere near the suicide rate of these two countries. The most Indian regions of Guyana also have the highest suicide rate. Hmmm.

Does India itself have high suicide rates? On average, yes. But India has a lot of weird suicide microclimates. Statewide rates range from from 38 in Sikkim (higher than any country in the world) to 0.5 in Bihar (lower than any country in the world except Barbados). Indo-Guyanese mostly come from Bihar and other low-suicide regions. While I can’t rule out that the Indo-Guyanese come from some micro-micro-climate of higher suicidality, this guy claims to have traced them back to some of their ancestral villages and found that those villages have low suicide rates.

So what’s going on? Social and Cultural Dimensions of Indian Indentured Labour and Its Diaspora argues that despite the mixed suicide rates in India itself, rates across the Indian Diaspora are universally high. For example:

The Fiji Indian suicide rate in the period 1900 to 1915 was the highest among all Indian labour importing colonies in Africa and the West Indies, and much higher than in India itself. In Mauritius too, hundreds of indentured Indian laborers committed suicide by jumping from a particular hillock during the indenture period, which acquired the name of ‘Suicide Hill’, now turned into a monument […]

In his article ‘Veil of Dishonor’ Lal (1985) describes what officials tend to point out as the primary cause of the Fiji Indian suicides: sexual jealousy arising from the persistent shortage of women on the plantations. The rate of indentured adult Indian females to males in Fiji was only 43 to 100. The intense competition for women among the indentured men was seen as the main reason for male suicides in Fiji. Lomarsh Roopnarine (2007) also shows high rates of suicides among indentured Indians in British Guiana […]

Although there is no reason to doubt the existence of sexual jealousy, this emphasis on the scarcity of women disregards the arduous circumstances in which the indentured labourers were working, and the disruption of the “integrative institutions” of society – family, marriage, caste, kinship, and religion – as the underlying causes of suicide and other ills affecting the Indian indentured labour population.

Yeah, but arduous circumstances affected dozens of different ethnicities involved in various colonization and forced labor schemes, and most of them didn’t have these kinds of suicide rates. I can kind of imagine a story where first-generation laborers had no hope of settling down or raising families, committed suicide at high rates, and that ingrained suicidal tendencies in the culture that never went away. But then how come that didn’t happen to eg indentured Englishmen in Virginia?

The incongruously named Vijayakumar and John (2018) blame the Hindu religion. Did you know that the Ramayana ends with Rama, three of brothers, and the entire population of his kingdom committing mass suicide by drowning? Or that the mahaparasthana is a traditional Hindu method of suicide “where the person walks in a north easterly direction, subsisting only on water and air, until his body sinks to rest”? Any religion that has a traditional direction to walk in while you’re committing suicide by starving yourself seems kind of suspicious here. But then how come Hindus in some parts of India have such low suicide rates? How come it’s just the diaspora that suffers. The paper suggests maybe it’s because religiosity plays a protective effect, but it sounds kind of strained.

I don’t have better answers to any of these questions. Maybe the combination of Hindu religion, imbalanced gender ratios, and uprooted communities created a perfect storm. I don’t have any better ideas.

II.

Guyana, at 30 suicides per year per 100,000, is the highest national suicide rate in the world. But if Greenland ever wins independence, it will steal first place. Greenland’s suicide rate is 83 per year per 100,000, almost three times higher than any other country in the world.

Like Guyana, this is more ethnic than national. Greenland is mostly Inuit, and Inuit everywhere have equally high suicide rates. The suicide rate in the mostly-Inuit Canadian province of Nunavit is 71 (for comparison, Canada in general is 10). The suicide rate among Alaskan Inuit is 40 (for comparison, the US in general is 14).

This definitely is not just because of the cold and darkness. White Alaskans who live right next to Alaskan natives have a rate of about 20, not much higher than the US average. And suicide in Greenland – like everywhere else – peaks in the spring and summer anyway.

Most damning of all, Greenland’s high suicide rates are a recent phenomenon. In 1971, the rate was 4. I didn’t forget a zero there. Fifty years ago, Greenland had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world. But by 1990, it had reached 120 (it’s since come down a little bit). What happened in those twenty years?

You would think limiting it to such a short time period would make things easy. It isn’t. There are two main theories: social alienation, and alcohol.

There is definitely a lot of social alienation. For centuries, the Inuit hunted seals in traditional villages. At some point the Danish government decided that was unacceptably backwards and resettled them in cities, especially the capital of Nuuk. This didn’t go well.

One counterargument to this story is that Nuuk has the lowest suicide rate in Greenland, and the more remote the village, the worse the suicide crisis. Maybe you could argue that everywhere was modernized and disrupted and alienated but at least a big city has some interesting stuff to do. This would kind of match the American experience, where it’s small towns in West Virginia that are getting hit by the opioid crisis and deaths of despair.

Another counterargument is that all Native American communities suffered a lot of displacement and alienation and modernization, but none of them suffered the same suicide spike as the Inuit. Sources disagree on the exact Native American suicide rate in the US, but it isn’t unusually high; the CDC numbers say it is slightly below the rate for non-Hispanic whites. Canadian First Nations suicide rates are elevated, but still only a third or so of Inuit levels. Maybe Inuits suffered stronger relocation pressures than other native peoples because of their Arctic environment? Or maybe every native group suffered a suicide spike, but Native Americans and Canadians have adjusted by now and their suicide rates have come back down? I’m not sure.

The other theory about Greenland is alcohol. Alcohol consumption in Greenland skyrocketed around the same time suicide did, reached levels that temporarily made Greenland by far the most alcoholic country in the world – then started declining around the same time suicide did. This seems to be a pattern when hunter-gatherers with no genetic or cultural resistance encounter alcohol for the first time – Native Americans in the 1700s got up to some crazy stuff.

But the Inuit seem to have gotten it much worse. Now we can bring back in the cold and darkness. Alcohol consumption seems to increase reliably with latitude, whether we’re talking about the US:

Japan:

Or the whole world:

So you take some hunter-gatherers who have never encountered alcohol before, stick them in the northernmost place in the world, and throw cheap Danish alcohol at them at the exact moment their communities are being uprooted and destroyed forever, and you get…well, you get this:

By 1980, Greenland was the most alcoholic country in the world, drinking an average of 22 liters of pure alcohol per capita per year (Russia is 15). It doesn’t look like this was responsible social drinking either. Take the most deranged binge drinking in the worst college fraternity in the world, multiply it by a thousand, and that was Greenland during much of the late 20th century.

But this can’t be the whole story. Alcohol consumption in Greenland has since dropped to the same level as Denmark and other European countries. But the suicide rate is still ten times higher. Why? Maybe the moderate quantities are hiding deeply dysfunctional drinking patterns with lots of binging and addiction.

Or maybe it’s something worse. Child sexual abuse rates in Greenland range from 37% in Nuuk to 46% in East Greenland. As far as I can tell, you are understanding those numbers correctly – almost half of children in Greenland are sexually abused. In Nunavut, the numbers are 52% of women and 22% of men suffering “severe” childhood sexual abuse. The New York Times sets a disturbingly vivid scene:

Pay days are the worst time for the children of Tasiilaq, officials say. With their salaries or social benefits in hand, many adults tend to drink and parents become too inebriated to look after their children, officials say. That’s when an already high rate of sexual abuse rises, according to a police study published last week […]

So on the last Friday of every month, officials open a sports hall in the district as a shelter to keep children away from sexual abuse.

“Children were abused by their stepfathers, cousins and by the neighbor looking after them as the parents were on a bender,” Naasunnguaq Ignatiussen Streymoy, the mother of a sexual abuse victim and an anti-abuse activist, told Weekendavisen, a newsweekly, in an article published on Friday about the crisis.”

Correlation is not causation. Maybe the same dysfunction or social alienation or alcoholism that causes the sexual abuse separately causes the suicides. But maybe the obvious answer is true, and the sexual abuse contributes to the mental health problems that eventually lead to suicide. Maybe a generation of staggeringly high alcoholism led to staggeringly high child abuse, and a generation later those children are still committing suicide at staggeringly high rates.

III.

This is getting really depressing. Let’s talk about something a little bit lighter, like the remote Siberian okrugs with the highest suicide rates in the world.

The highest suicide rate I have seen credibly attributed to an ethnic group is the Chukchi of northeastern Russia, who are said to have reached 165 per year per 100,000 in 1998. They may be distantly related to the Inuit, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on this; Siberia is riddled with weird ethnicities with super-high suicide rates. The Evenks reached 121; their western neighbors the Nenets reached 119. There is a group called the Koryaks with a rate of 92, and another group called the Udmurts with a rate of 40ish – which is still higher than Guyana.

Voracek, Fisher, and Marusic try to tie some of these groups into their Finno-Ugrian Suicide Hypothesis, claiming that the genetically-related Finno-Ugric group have a unique predisposition to suicidality. The theory has some superficial plausibility – in the 1990s, the world’s first, second, and third most suicidal countries were Finland, Hungary, and Estonia – all Finno-Ugric. Their surrounding non-Finno-Ugric neighbors, like Sweden or Austria, were unremarkable, so a genetic hypothesis made sense. Unfortunately for the theory (but fortunately for everyone else) these countries have since improved by a lot, and now are barely above the world average; improved mental health care may be responsible (and the fall of Communism didn’t hurt). I’m actually a little confused what happened here.

But the Finno-Ugric hypothesis can’t explain the Chukchi, Evenks, Nenets, Koryaks, and Udmurts. Sure, the Udmurts are Finno-Ugric. And the Nenets are closely related. But the Chukchi, Evenks, and Koryaks aren’t. It’s tempting to group all of these tiny Siberian ethnic groups together, but eg the Evenks are more closely related to the Japanese than they are to the Nenets (despite living right next to them). Any genetic hypothesis flounders on the sheer genetic diversity and unrelatedness of this region.

Psychologist David Lester tries to point the finger at these groups’ ancient culture, which he says has been especially suicidal since the time of the earliest records. He quotes an account of the 19th-century Chukchi:

Bogoras described the [Chukchi] as irritable and obstinate and, when frustrated, impulsively self-destructive. He reports the case of a young girl who hung herself when her mother refused to take her to a feast in a neighboring camp. [He] reported cases of suicide in a husband over grief at his wife’s death andof a mother after her ten-year-old son’s death; a case motivated by bad fortune, compounded by the fear of further bad fortune; a woman who no longer found any pleasure in life; a young man who was driven away by his father-in-law for being lazy who then killed his pregnant wife and himself; and a young woman whose husband wanted to lend her to a friend in a group marriage, a friend whom she disliked.

Suicidal behavior appeared to be so common that people planning to kill themselves would often ask for a last meal of exotic tastes before they did so. Some Chukchee prefer to commit suicide by having someone else kill them. The man reported above who committed suicide because of present and anticipated misfortune asked to be strangled. In another case,a man who fell ill asked his wife to shoot him. Bogoras noted that ‘voluntary death’ as he called it, suicide by getting others to kill oneself, was common for the elderly and those suffering from physical illnesses.

However, Bogoras also noted ‘peculiar’ causes of voluntary death, such as that of a man who grew weary of quarrelling with his wife over their ill-behaved sons. Part of the motive in these cases may be to induce guilt in the survivors. As one father said, ‘Then he asks to be killed, and charges the very son who offended him with the execution of his request. Let him give me the mortal blow, let him suffer from the memory of it’.

I can only aspire to one day achieve this level of passive-aggressiveness. But in the end it has the same problem as the genetic hypothesis: these groups are just totally unrelated to each other. The Chukchi are not much more suicidal than the Nenets or Evenks, who have none of these traditions. And the Inuit are up there with all of them, and they had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world pre-colonization.

I think the explanation here is the same as with Greenland: the combination of alcohol-naive hunter gatherers, alcohol, the alcohol-promoting effects of high latitudes, and a disruption of the traditional way of life. There’s apparently a Russian proverb about Siberians that goes “reindeer-herders are sober only when they don’t have the money to get drunk” – and when the Russians are appalled by your alcoholism, you know you have a problem. Alcohol was found in the blood of 75 – 80% of Nenets suicides. And if anything, the Siberians had their way of life disrupted even worse than the Inuit did – Soviet central planners tried to collectivize them as a PR move – they wanted to demonstrate that Communism could work for even the most primitive of peoples. Well, it didn’t, and here we are.

While genetics or culture may matter a little, overall I am just going to end with a blanket recommendation to avoid being part of any small circumpolar ethnic group that has just discovered alcohol.

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280 Responses to Suicide Hotspots Of The World

  1. Bram Cohen says:

    Do you think there’s strong selective pressure to being able to handle the newly induced alcohol, which might cause these problems to lessen over a time period of generations?

  2. googolplexbyte says:

    The way you phrase it I can’t tell if “Alcohol was found in the blood of 75 – 80% of Nenets” is above or below the base rate.

  3. sheppard8585 says:

    diagnosing suicides is difficult and these numbers really should not be treated as seriously as they are being treated. have to acknowledge a lot of noise around the reported number

  4. rr30 says:

    As one other commentor has touched upon, while the Ramayana reference seems to fit nicely in theory, I am willing to bet that a majority of Indian Hindus would not be familiar with the cause of death of Lord Rama- this tidbit about his death is largely unknown- it being a strong enough anchor as a cultural cause for high suicides is highly unlikely.

    If I recall correctly, suicide rates in India are high and increasing among married men- societal pressure to live up to the strong masculinity image, familial pressure to be a strong male figure and breadwinner, economic reasons, laws favouring women in marital disputes in the recent past are commonly thrown around reasons. Add in access to alcohol, increased urbanisation, loneliness, toxic work environments and lack of support systems- it sounds like the perfect storm. A lot of these parallels could be found in Indian communities in Guyana and Fiji too I guess.

  5. fallenscien says:

    It seems really weird to me that no one’s even mentioned lithium in the water supply, since it’s been discussed here before in relation to population-level suicidality.

    I don’t expect that it’s the only effect in play, but I would expect cultural groups to have similar internal practices related to where they get their water and how they treat it, but that these practices might differ significantly from nearby groups. So it’s worth a look.

    The displaced hunter-gatherers and reindeer-herders often melt snow in the winter to provide drinking water for months at a time. It never sits in liquid form in contact with rock or clay, so there’s presumably minimal opportunity for lithium to leach in. Being displaced may mean they don’t have long-standing routes with natural springs to draw water from.

    Some of the Inuit in Alaska have been settled in an area around a man-made lake, which is fed almost entirely by precipitation, with notably low exposure to silt and clay that might leach lithium into the supply – it’s so clear that they UV sterilize it /before/ they filter it. Their white neighbors live in cities with regular wells that tap into the groundwater.

    Looking at Guyana in particular, it looks like the rocks in the region have a high enough concentration of lithium that there’s an Australian firm planning to mine for it there (it’s apparently above 1% in places!). However, unlike in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which have large salt flats full of lithium salts, Guyana pretty much just has it bound in mineral form.

    So we’d expect miners there to have significant exposure to environmental lithium (does breathing it work?), but we’d expect people in the flood plains, due to strong continuous waterflow coming out of the rainforest, to have water sources that spend very little time percolating through the earth and thus allow little time for lithium to exchange in. Maybe this matters, maybe it doesn’t.

    Let’s look a little further into the history and distribution of the subpopulations of Guyana and see what we can find.

    Plausibly because of racism, the Afro-Guyanese were brought in to be miners, but the Indo-Guyanese didn’t work in the mines, instead doing almost exclusively agricultural work in the floodplains. From “Migration, Mining, and the African Diaspora: Guyana in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” by Barbara P. Josiah (2011):

    East Indians were imported to Guyana from the 1830s. The 1851 census showed 7,682 East Indians were in the colony as a result of an indentured immigration scheme. Forty years later, this group increased to 105,463 persons.(68) In spite of the rapid numerical growth of East Indians in the country, their seeming lack of involvement in the mining industry commensurate with their numbers has never been addressed. African-descended persons are always correctly portrayed as the predominant workforce in the mining sector. East Indians are noted as agriculturalists whose so-called “lack of suitable physical strength” was often deviously cited by white colonials, as the specific reason, for their alleged invisibility in the gold and diamond fields. … Constraints on their labor by planters, legal measures, colonizing schemes, and land grants served to restrict the majority of East Indian workers to coastal sugar plantations and other agricultural work, even after their indentureship ended. As a result, they were never considered a significant part of the mining workforce. Until 1928, no official efforts were made to encourage the movement of East Indians into mining. (69)

    Worth noting, approximately 40% of suicides in Guyana are performed by drinking agricultural pesticides (per Wikipedia’s article on “Suicide in Guyana”, and I’m too lazy to actually check the primary source right now.) Also worth noting, there’s been a very high rate of HIV/AIDS in Guyana – 16% of sex workers were infected at the peak – and a corresponding association between infection status and suicidal ideation. We’d also expect HIV infection to cluster disproportionately in cultural and subcultural groups, and in physical locations, and so especially in cultural groups that are clustered in physical locations. The epidemic’s fallen off in recent years, but it was really bad for a period that covers the past 30-40 years, but not the older reports of suicidality in the Indo-Guyanese subpopulation that predate the AIDS epidemic. It’s allegedly been a thing since the late 19th century, so HIV is definitely not the only thing going on.

    And yet, I feel like the HIV thing is definitely one piece of the puzzle in Guyana. I’m not sure about lithium, but it seems plausible based on the research I’ve seen that high levels of lithium in the drinking water suppress suicidality, especially in men, and that suicide hotspots would be expected to have unusually low levels of lithium among the drinking water of the areas and subpopulations that are affected.

    I’m not sure about Greenland, either, but suicides there apparently cluster in the summer months north of the arctic circle, which some researchers have blamed on insomnia from incessant daylight: “In the north of the country, 82% of the suicides occurred during the daylight months (including astronomical twilight)” – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090507190558.htm . I’m not sure what the suicide rates are in Murmansk, Norilsk, and Vorkuta, but an examination of them could probably shed some light on the veracity of this claim.

    … Alternately, the peak in suicides in late spring and early summer, especially in the northern latitudes where it’s cold enough to accumulate snow and ice, could be related to the snowmelt causing a sudden influx of water into the water supply and causing an abrupt drop in the ambient lithium concentration. But if that was true, we’d also expect to see peaks in suicidality during monsoon season in countries affected by monsoons (does a brief search) What do you know, annual patterns in countries with a monsoon season do seem to have another peak in suicides, corresponding to the monsoon season. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5777055/ is a fun one which discusses some of the plausible mechanisms, of which there are many, including crop damage and health problems brought on by high heat and humidity. We should study this more.

    … All right, I’ll shut up about lithium.

  6. OptimalSolver says:

    Of interest: John Derbyshire’s review of the book An African In Greenland, which he called “the strangest travel book ever written.”

  7. DaveK says:

    Evo-psych idea about the northern cultures. Suicide can only be evolutionary beneficial if it increases the survival rate of close relatives. In such extreme climates, the risk of total group death may have been greater, and thus in hard times suicide was an adaptation. As long as communities are functioning, this isn’t a problem. But community upheaval combined with alcoholism creates a situation that is recognized as a “group emergency” triggering suicidal impulses.

    The culture would have possible evolved to find suicide more acceptable. Furthermore, in a place with a high suicde rate, alcoholism, poverty, and a lack of forensic investigation, there may be more murders disguised as suicide.

    It would be interesting to look at time of year when suicides occur, as the extreme light or lack thereof would wreak havoc on circadian rhythms. While native populations may have partially adjusted to this, it could still be a factor.

    As far as the Indian diaspora- recall India is a culture with pre-arranged marriages. The exposure to the neccesitty of sexual competition and jealousy when one’s culture has not properly prepared one for it combined with the conditions of being an oppressed class could have a role. I do think there is something to be said about the Hindu religion in the sense that Hindus believe they can escape their lives and be reincarnated, whereas other religions see suicide as a ticket to hell. If one is depressed and sees themselves as failing, they might see continuing to live as more of a chance to acquire negative karma, which will result in a worse rebirth. Or, put a different way, if one is suicidally depressed, it may seem to them that they can only acquire negative karma from then on out, so it’s better to “cash out” before the situation gets any worse.

    There are other factors that would be interesting to look at, like changes in diet, socialization patterns, gender based patterns, age, etc.

    Furthrmore, if extreme alcoholism is a factor, “semi-sucides”, i.e., accidental deaths may be higher, as well as things like overdose or freezing to death, which may be assumed to be, and counted as, suicides.

  8. thetitaniumdragon says:

    I think you’re missing an obvious question with regards to the Inuit suicide rate:

    Are you sure that it really was 4, and not that it was just greatly underreported?

    Remote Inuit villages in Greenland seem like a pretty ideal place to have an underreported suicide rate back in the day.

    In any case, drug abuse and suicide seem to be strongly linked, which isn’t surprising. And a depressant like alcohol or opiates should probably be expected to increase suicide rates. On the other hand, drug addiction also correlates with poor conscientiousness, which could also lead to suicide (among innumerable other poor life outcomes) – someone with poor conscientiousness may not see any way out, or see it as too much of a struggle, or just be more likely to engage in an impulsive suicidal thought.

    These places also have high crime rates and are barely within the bounds of modern civilization, and a lot of stories about these places are depressing in general due to the dysfunction on exhibition.

    As for rates of alcohol consumption – you’re right that the more pertinent question is drug abuse, really. If you go from 50% of the population being drunkards and 50% drinking moderately to 40% of the population being drunkards and 60% not drinking at all, you’d see a considerable decrease in alcohol consumption, but might only see a 20% decrease in the problems caused by alcohol consumption.

  9. Douglas Knight says:

    You repeatedly say in the comments that the rates are stable. That’s true in Guyana, but is it true for these polar groups? Your original post isn’t reassuring on this, repeatedly saying “reached.” Your Nenets source does the right thing and takes a 10 year average. While Russia is a big place stable against sampling errors, there are big changes from decade to decade. The Russian average over that decade was 36—Guyana is not always number 1. In Nenets, the non-indigenous rate was 49, while the indigenous rate was 79. That’s very high, but it’s not 120. That’s twice the national rate, but half the effect seems to be location and half ethnic. The ratio of indigenous to non-indigenous is substantial, but it’s lower than in Alaska. This is all based on only 252 suicides, 67 of them indigenous!
    (The 119 number is not stable, but part of the sequences 62-100-119-102-33-75, averaging out to 82. On the other hand, it seems to be an Okrug number, so the ethnic number might be higher, while the ethnic number seemed to be that. source source. I confused why that source puts the whole Okrug at 80, while your source put the Nenets people at 80. 5 year vs 10 year averages?)

    ———

    Also, suicide rates are heavily driven by sex and age. Some sources report age-adjusted rates, but most don’t. Perhaps some of these numbers are driven by aging populations? The Chukotka region lost 2/3 of its population between 1990 and 2000. That’s got to mess up the demographics of who remains, though probably few ethnic Chukchi left. (I had wondered if Nuuk had a skewed sex ratio, but no, although the few foreigners are male-skewed, the Greenland-born population is even.)

  10. Darwin says:

    Sanity check question – If you graph the distribution rate of all suicide rates for all groups worldwide, does it form a normal distribution with these groups on the tail, or are these groups significant outliers far away from the rest of the distribution?

    If there’s a normal distribution and these groups are just the tail, is there even anything to explain?

    ——

    Another thought – I wish it were possible to get this data in QALYs rather than per capita, as I see an important difference between people killing themselves in the prime of their life vs terminally ill geriatrics putting an end to their suffering.

    If some cultural groups are just more open to ending their life at the end instead of spending 5 years on life support, that’s very different than looking for alcohol and sex abuse as drivers of despair.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The distribution of all 193 countries in the world ranges from approximately 0 (Barbados) to 30 (Guyana). The Evenks have a suicide rate of 120. So I think that’s a legitimate outlier.

      Also, even when things fall on a bell curve, they can be worth explaining! It wouldn’t surprise me if GDP per capita of nations fell on a bell curve, but it still seems meaningful to say that the US is rich because of its capitalist institutions, or that Africa is poor because of a history of colonialism, or things like that. An economist trying to figure out how to raise GDP per capita would want to study that bell curve really carefully!

  11. Riothamus says:

    I don’t know which specific tribes practiced this, but I understand it was relatively widespread in Siberia for there to be ritual assisted suicide of elderly family members. There is a similar tradition attributed to the Inuit where when men are too old to hunt, they would go out into the ice flows, never to be seen again. For these two cases, the alleged theme was that when a person wasn’t able to contribute anymore, it was an appropriate time to die.

    Archaeological evidence from Central Asia and the Steppe suggests that suicide was relatively common among young men during the Bronze Age because of a particular social arrangement where warriors would swear themselves to a leader unto death; if he died before they did, they would commit ritual suicide. This practice declined during the Axial Age with the spread of Christianity and then Islam, both of which strongly opposed suicide. When the Caliphates and Imperial China battled over Central Asia, there were incidents on both sides where Central Asians sworn to a Caliph/Emperor/prince/governor would kill themselves against specific instructions.

    The piece mentions Hinduism, the oldest religion in its recognizable current form, has ritual methods of suicide; aside from that mentioned there is the practice of Sati where widows would commit ritual suicide at the funerals of their husbands.

    The pattern this suggests to me is that suicide is higher if there are any positive (or at least acceptable) examples of it in the culture. I feel like this doesn’t even require the force of tradition: for example in the United States it has become common to downplay or not announce suicides of celebrities or high school students in a bid to minimize copycat suicides.

    • eric23 says:

      This practice declined during the Axial Age with the spread of Christianity and then Islam

      A quick googling reveals that the “Axial Age” lasted from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE. Neither Christianity nor Islam existed at this point.

  12. Long Disc says:

    As it is often the case with statistics derived from non-homogenous sources, the outliers are likely to tell us more about data collection process differences than about actual data differences. This applies to both cross-section (country comparison) and temporal changes. In the particular case of suicides and death records, there are many ways to record a death and the precise classification is conditioned by culture, language, and administrative incentives. That is, different countries at different times may have very different ideas about the distinctions between “suicide”, “accidental death”, “undetermined non-violent death”, “open verdict” etc

  13. tomxhart says:

    What about the role of the welfare state? These high suicide rates occurred at a time when different forms of socialism or social democracy were being attempted in the respective countries mentioned. Welfare states destroy family bonds (increasing nihilism and despair) and also provide people the means to destroy themselves (e.g. easy cash to buy alcohol).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the destructive forms of welfare state are covered in my term “social alienation” and “colonialism”. Countries that do welfare states in a nondestructive way, like Sweden, don’t seem to have higher suicide rates than normal.

      • tomxhart says:

        From Wiki: “Sweden has a suicide rate which is below the OECD average. During the 1960s, Sweden had one of the highest reported suicide rates among the most developed countries, but it declined as methods for measuring were standardized internationally…” It’s likely that the standardisation hid the true rate; the welfare state always has a destructive effect.

        People in the villages had nothing else to do except drink their welfare check, and drink leads to despair and suicide.

        Colonisation might have been unsettling, especially for colonial indentured servants, but they still had faith & family to sustain them—welfare states eat those.

    • eric23 says:

      Welfare states destroy family bonds (increasing nihilism and despair)

      Is there evidence for that, or is it to be taken on faith?

  14. Rm says:

    This review seems rather quilt-like. If we know that alcohol consumption is distributed unevenly throughout Japan, then we would ask if suicidal rates are distributed similarly. If we are surprised by higher-than-average suicide rates, how come we are not surprised by lower-than-average ones? If the religiosity is considered a force in some cases, then why not in others (the”cultural differences” between the northern peoples of Siberia have to be binnable into some categories respected by suicidologists)?

  15. Phil H says:

    “I found was this article by a social justice warrior telling us it constitutes racial “essentialism” to even ask the question. But in the process of telling us exactly what kind of claims we should avoid, she mentions someone bringing up that “80% of the reported suicides are carried out by Indo-Guyanese”. I feel like one of those classicists who has reconstructed a lost heresy through hostile quotations in Irenaeus.”

    This whole thing just makes me really uncomfortable. Having gone through the exercise, you really weren’t able to draw any clear conclusions about the relationship between ethnicity and suicide. Even if you had, you would know that there is a very real chance that those relationships are entirely a product and consequence of categories invented by racists, rather than real facts about the world. But you didn’t find any clear conclusions… and yet *still* you seem to be saying, huh, in the absence of any better explanations, let’s just fall back on some form of racio-ethno-cultural argument. That’s bizarre, wrong, anti-Bayesian.

    I think omegastick above had it best: It could just be random. Of course, it might not be. But in the interim, while we don’t know, it’s hard to see what value there can be in clinging to beliefs like “it must be something to do with them being Indian”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Indo-Guyanese are not a category invented by racists. And if an identifiable 30% of the population has 80% of the suicides, “it could be random” is a very unlikely possibility.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Indian diaspora” is not a category invented by racists, and the Indian diaspora in half a dozen different countries has elevated suicide rates.

      And I’m not sure how you explain that suicide is elevated in Alaskan Inuit, Greenlandic Inuit, and Canadian Inuit (but not in white Alaskans, white Canadians, or Danes in Greenland) without some kind of “racio-ethno-cultural argument”. Also, is it politically incorrect to talk about culture too now? I thought it was just genes, and culture was the thing that was supposed to be okay?

      What do you mean by “random”? There are hundreds of thousands of Guyanese, and hundred of Guyanese suicides each year. The ethnic differences stay the same from year to year. If this were a study with Afro-Guyanese as the control group and Indo-Guyanese as the experimental group, it would reach p less than 0.05 within a few months, and p less than 0.0001 after a few years. Add in the Indian diaspora everywhere else, or the concordance between Inuit in different countries, and it would get even lower. What does it mean to take something that’s p less than 0.0001 and say it’s “random”? Is that how you define good Bayesianism?

      Why are you even thinking this way about suicide rates? If I told you that Guyana had a GDP per capita of $8,000 per person, but Britain had a GDP of $32,000 per person, would you say maybe it was random? Or would you start looking for causes in the countries’ economies, histories, cultures, level of natural resources, etc? That is the same proportional difference as in those countries’ suicide rates. You can’t just dismiss 4:1 differences across groups of hundreds of thousands of people sustained over decades as “random”!

      • nkurz says:

        @Scott Alexander:
        > Also, is it politically incorrect to talk about culture too now? I thought it was just genes, and culture was the thing that was supposed to be okay?

        I’m surprised by your surprise. No, part of the problem of the current expansionist definition of “racism” means that it simply is no longer acceptable to discuss certain aspects of “culture”. Someone trying to criticize, for example, urban American black work ethics, or Muslim-American attitudes toward homosexuality, would likely be called racist. Defenses that racism technically only applies to genetics, and that they were talking solely about culture, haven’t tended to fly.

        In my mind, this conflation of race and culture is central to many modern social justice movements, and I would have presumed that you would recognize this even if you don’t personally believe it. How else do people simultaneously believe that “race is not real” and “everyone is racist”? If you are surprised by this interpretation, an exploration in this direction might be a good topic for future a blog post.

      • Phil H says:

        Hi, Scott. Thanks for the reply.
        As NKurz says, I’m surprised by your surprise. The substitution of culture for race is just a step on the rhetorical treadmill. As with the euphemism treadmill, these things develop on and on. Racists got caught being racists, so many of them stopped saying “I don’t like brown people” and started saying “I don’t like Muslims”. Anti-racists noticed that this dislike of Islam was not theologically motivated, but just a simple cover for racism, and started to say, “It’s not OK to say you don’t like Muslims”, and the racists went all motte-and-bailey and started researching the Koran, which they’d never done before… that’s how culture relates to race. It’s a hassle, but not an unknown or crazy made-up thing.

        ‘“Indian diaspora” is not a category invented by racists’ – I’m not sure this is true. Is “Indian” a coherent cultural and/or genetic category? Seeing as you yourself note the existence of strikingly different groups within India (at least in terms of suicide rates, not to mention language), “Indian diaspora” does sound very much like a category invented by racists. To explain my terms a bit: I regard a term as “invented by racists” if it doesn’t reflect either self-designation or some reasonably coherent cultural or genetic criteria. And even a number of self-designations are pretty suspect if they come from lines drawn on the map by colonials.

        “Why are you even thinking this way about suicide rates?…GDP…” Wha… I don’t understand the question. If you asked me why Britain and Guyana had different GDPs, the last place I would start is with what race the people who live there are! I would look at their economies, natural resources, institutions, histories. It’s like… It’s like gay people and suicide. Gay people committed suicide much more. But the explanation “they’re gay” is the kind of explanation that is designed *precisely to cover up the real reason* (ostracism and bullying). And that’s what I would always fear about “racial” explanations. They are way more likely to be cover ups for the real reason (untreated mental illness? institutions that systematically persecute?) than they are to be the real reason themselves.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “I don’t like brown people” and started saying “I don’t like Muslims”.

          Very few racists said “I don’t like brown people”. Those that did were not referring to Muslims, Arabs, Persians, Pashtuns, or any of the other varieties of people who are majority practitioners of Islam, but usually to mestizos or Filipinos. The whole idea that there’s a category “brown” covering anyone who is neither black nor white is something made up by so-called “anti-racists”.

          The antipathy for Muslims is something else; in fact, I’d suggest the treadmill runs the other way, and a lot of people who are use slurs related to Arabs actually object to features of Islam. It’s not some abstract theological dispute; some of it is religious rivalry, and rather a lot is rooted in the conflicts which can be summed up by the word “jihad”.

          To explain my terms a bit: I regard a term as “invented by racists” if it doesn’t reflect either self-designation or some reasonably coherent cultural or genetic criteria.

          Indians, including Indians of the Indian Diaspora, consider themselves Indians. That India itself is a patchwork of cultures and peoples that have been held together (when it has) by various warlords and empires over the centuries (the British being only the last) does not change this, and if you set your criteria for terminology so strictly as to exclude that one, you end up making anthropology impossible to talk about.

        • Spookykou says:

          @Phil H Scott’s last paragraph is a response to your last paragraph, where you write,

          I think omegastick above had it best: It could just be random.

          More generally your argument seems to rest on the assumption that ‘all’ ‘cultural’ explanations are actually ‘racist’ explanations which is a bit confusing because,

          But the explanation “they’re gay” is the kind of explanation that is designed *precisely to cover up the real reason* (ostracism and bullying).

          seems like an argument for the existence of a culture of “ostracism and bullying” which really feels like a cultural explanation for increased suicide rates.

          As far as I can tell the implication then is that Scott(and probably others?) can’t offer a cultural explanation for anything because they are secretly racist and only talking about culture as a mask for their racism, but also everything is mostly(totally?) cultural/societal and is best explained by culture.

          Which seem, a bit uncharitable.

        • many of them stopped saying “I don’t like brown people”

          No one ever used the phrase “brown people.” It exists only in the heads of anti-racists who want to conceptualize a wave of brownophobia coming over Western nations in the years after 2001. Around that time many started researching the Koran in order to cover up their brownophobia. They didn’t used to research the Koran before 2001 outside of religious studies departments, and there’s only one reasonable explanation for that.*

          Is “Indian” a coherent cultural and/or genetic category? Seeing as you yourself note the existence of strikingly different groups within India

          You usually hear this “internal diversity” argument applied to whites, though it applies just as well to Indians. Applies to most large groups, Jews for example…

          *This comment should not imply a sympathy for neoconservatism or support for any of their dumb wars.

        • Phil H says:

          @Nybbler
          “Indians, including Indians of the Indian Diaspora, consider themselves Indians”
          *If* this is true, then I agree, as a self-designated group, it is reasonable and non-racist to look at these hyphenated Indians as Indians.
          I’m a bit dubious, because the first link I found on a search says this: “They are usually catogorised with multiple identities, with a more localised and prioritised ethnic orientation, for example, Bihari People, Haryanvi People, Avadhi People, Malvi People, Himachali People, and Bhojpuri People, in addition to further tribal, village, or religious identities.” So I dunno.

          But yeah, to the extent that Guyanese Indians do self-designate as Indian, it’s not racist to use that category in research. It was merely incautious.

          @Spookykou
          I get that Scott doesn’t think “random” is good enough. What I’m saying is that if random is not good enough, that’s not a good enough reason to start using bad categories of analysis. We have a phenomenon: high suicide rates. If you insert a particular set of ethnic categorisations at the beginning of your analysis of this phenomenon, it is overwhelmingly likely that at the end of your analysis, you will get an answer that says: ethnicity X is the high suicide ethnicity. But that answer will be an analytical artifact, not a reflection of any deeper reality. This is a bad way to do thinking!

          ‘an argument for the existence of a culture of “ostracism and bullying”’ No, it’s careful enough not to demand that. The question I was imagining was “Why did lots of gay people commit suicide?” The answer is, “they were bullied and ostracized.” There’s no culture in there. If you want to ask why they were bullied and ostracized, you can do that, and at some point in the infinite regression of “why,” you might come to a “culture” explanation, I suppose. But not at this point.

          “Scott…cultural explanation…secretly racist…uncharitable” This is the standard bullshit that I’m not allowed to say anything that might remotely suggest that someone is a racist, because it’s too uncharitable. I reject it utterly. There are lots of racists in the world. Sometimes I will say that. When I see someone doing a racist thing, I may say: “I think that person is doing that thing because they’re racist.” If you find that kind of statement too scary, please don’t ever read any comment I make in the future. Because I am liable to say things like that at any time.

          However, it’s also a misrepresentation of how racism works. I don’t know Scott at all, but I very much doubt from his writing that he is a “racist”. However, I’m fairly sure he thinks a bunch of racist things sometimes, because everyone does. I do. Centuries of persistent bigotry have literally woven racism into the language, and we’re only part way through the job of unpicking it. In this case, Scott used a whole bunch of “ethnicity” terms very uncritically. If he does that, he’s going to end up with an ethnicity-based answer to his question (Why high suicide rates?); and this answer will only be as good as the ethnic categories that go in. In this case just look at the relative sizes of two of the “ethnicities”: Indian – 1bn people, and Evenks – 40,000 people. These are not comparable categories. The only reason anyone would think they might be comparable is centuries of uncritical, racist-flavoured thinking about groups of humans.

          @Alexander Turok
          Hi. I think we agree on the “brown people” thing – I was writing too quickly and slapdash, and I didn’t mean that quote to be take literally. It was meant to be a representation of brownphobia.

          I think we agree on the internal diversity argument, too. It applies to all large groups.

        • Spookykou says:

          @Phil H

          I am not sure how you are defining the word cultural, such that homophobia which provoked the bullying and ostracizing of gay people to such an extent that it resulted in higher suicide rates would not be considered a cultural phenomenon.

          My accusation of uncharitable behavior is largely contingent on my apparent confusion.

          • Phil H says:

            The problem that I see is that “it’s cultural” isn’t an explanation. It just means you stop looking for explanations.
            I mean, you could say of suicide “It’s cultural” – and that’s the end of the story. No need to look any further for why all those people killed themselves. It was just their culture, and Scott’s post is a total waste of time.
            Or you can say, their suicide rates are high, because alcoholism is high in those groups. Why is alcoholism high? Well, because of their culture. End of story… or you can say alcoholism is high because of a combination of historical unfamiliarity with alcohol plus social alienation plus predatory colonialism…
            As you said, literally anything that happens in a society can be described as “cultural”. But it’s not an explanation. Similarly, anything that happens in a society can be described as “human”. Why did they commit suicide? It’s a human thing to do… that’s completely true, but completely non-explanatory. Why did they bully gay people? It’s a human thing to do. Clearly true, also, but non-explanatory.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I mean, you could say of suicide “It’s cultural” – and that’s the end of the story. No need to look any further for why all those people killed themselves.

            No, not “end of story”. You then look to see what particular features of their culture are causing it, and attempt to confirm or refute that those features do cause it. If you end up refuting them all, you probably re-consider the “cultural” explanation. However, if it turns out it IS cultural, and you avoid examining that because “that’s racist”, then you’ve blocked yourself off from the true explanation permanently.

          • Phil H says:

            Hi, Nybbler.
            But if you do that, then the word “cultural” is doing precisely zero work in your argument.
            Here’s what I want to do:
            Notice high suicide rates; look for factors that might cause high suicide rates.
            Here’s what you seem to want to do:
            Notice high suicide rates and say that it’s cultural; look for factors in the culture that might cause high suicide rates.
            I don’t see any difference at all between what we’re doing, only you want to stick the word cultural in there. What’s the benefit?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The benefit is that you get to refine your understanding and concentrate your investigations. You _might_ have to backtrack, but you’re exploring the more likely possibilities first. Going directly from phenomenon to detailed explanation is far harder.

          • Phil H says:

            Firstly, I absolutely disagree that the word “cultural” points us to the most likely possibilities. I genuinely have no idea what you think “culture” means. I think, as I said above, that literally anything can be called cultural. So it doesn’t point us anywhere at all.
            If you are using a different definition of cultural, so that there are some “cultural” explanations and some “non-cultural” explanationsl, then I have no reason to believe the cultural ones are more likely.

            But there’s a much deeper problem than that, which is that artificially introducing the idea of culture into the analysis makes it overwhelmingly likely that the answer you get out at the end of the analysis will include the idea of culture. But this “culture” is a completely uncritical, unstudied, undefined idea that can only muddy the water. For example, in the Indo-Guyanese example, is it Guyanese culture? Indian culture? Indian diaspora culture? Bihar culture? We don’t know. All we know is that it’s sitting in the middle of our answer, and we have no idea how much it has tainted or confounded our analysis.

            Introducing this term is (a) not helpful and (b) actively harmful.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Having failed to make your point, you appear to be intent on denying the possibility of obtaining knowledge. Might be fun, but I don’t think it can result in any knowledge of the world, so I decline to participate.

          • Aapje says:

            @Phil H

            Culture is the stuff that is optional and semi-arbitrary. Being born with a certain skin color is not optional, while committing suicide is.

            The answer [to why gays more often commit suicide] is, “they were bullied and ostracized.”

            The bullying and ostracism is cultural…

            You are also wrong that there is a clear cause and effect where bullying and ostracism causes suicide. Black Americans have a below average suicide rate.

            Ironically, you complain about people jumping to conclusions when invoking culture, but you make bigger (and less justified) jumps than anyone else in this discussion.

          • Phil H says:

            Hi, Aapje.

            “you make bigger (and less justified) jumps” – well, I guess I’m a terrible baddie. But seeing as you’re here and talking, if you actually tell me what some of these jumps are, there is a chance that you’ll convince me and other readers. Simply telling me that I’m wrong won’t have that effect.

            “Culture is…optional and semi-arbitrary…skin color is not optional” – awesome, thank you. Defining terms always helps a bit. I understand that to be contrasting biological features closely connected to your genes vs other stuff. Above, Nybbler stated to me that it was much more likely that cultural factors cause suicide than other factors. I have no reason to think that’s true. First, a priori, I just don’t see it. Second, Scott’s post clearly identifies small, genetically-related populations with massively elevated suicide risk. It seems to me entirely possible that something biological is at work. So if your definition of culture is the one we’re using, I still firmly disagree with Nybbler that it’s useful to start thinking about culture first.

            “bullying and ostracism is cultural…” – I guess that’s right, using the definition of cultural that you give above. But I don’t see any analytic benefit to saying that. If bullying causes a suicide, why don’t we just say, bullying caused the suicide? If you want to know what *cause* of the bullying was, that’s another question (and “culture” isn’t the answer, if you’re already defining bullying as being part of the culture – that would just be circular). At no point does introducing the word “culture” make this analysis clearer or better.

            “clear cause and effect…bullying and ostracism…Black Americans” Sure, that sounds like a reasonable criticism. Perhaps my terms aren’t precise enough. (I think I would respond that black Americans aren’t usually ostracised, at least by their own families, so I’m not convinced you’re right.) I have no objection to you pointing out where my ideas are not clear enough, and I would be happy to try to sharpen them. (Not here, because it’s a bit off-topic, it was just an analogy I threw in to try to clarify things.)

            I feel like I’m missing something. Nybbler seems quite upset that I disfavour calling something “cultural”, and I have no idea why. Do you know, Aapje? Does it irritate you? Why? I feel like this is fairly standard LessWrong-flavoured, Bayes-lovin’, Internet-nerd style reasoning. But perhaps I’m wrong.

          • Aapje says:

            @Phil H

            The reason why ‘culture’ is useful, is that it is specific enough to discount certain other possibilities, yet generic enough to not require specificity that we cannot yet provide (or that is not relevant for a certain discussion).

            You yourself illustrate its usefulness by giving an unwarranted level of specificity as an alternative to pointing to culture.

            Note that no one argued that one should not delve further (although in many cases, science hasn’t provided us with clear answers and/or clear answers may not really exist…which makes ‘culture’ useful, again).

            If bullying causes a suicide, why don’t we just say, bullying caused the suicide?

            We can, if we have demonstrated that it does, which we haven’t.

            Note that in general, there is a very large category of outcomes that have multiple causes. As such, the existence of a correlation between X and outcome Y, doesn’t mean that all Ys are caused by X.

            Making the mistake of attributing all outcomes to a single cause is extremely common, in particular by the most dangerous kind of people, who ignore all other causes and 2nd order effects while pursuing a social good, making their efforts doomed to failure, if not being outright counterproductive.

            Banning the use of unspecific categories, will probably encourage more false attributions to a single cause, than it will make people describe very complex situations accurately.

            Nybbler seems quite upset that I disfavour calling something “cultural”, and I have no idea why.

            He didn’t so much seemed to get upset over that, but rather, at your fairly mediocre postmodernism.

            For example, you argue that: “But there’s a much deeper problem than that, which is that artificially introducing the idea of culture into the analysis makes it overwhelmingly likely that the answer you get out at the end of the analysis will include the idea of culture.”

            Yet this same criticism can be made of categories that you do accept, like ‘bullying’ and ‘ostracism.’ Both of these are artificial in the sense that they abstract away a far more complex reality. Being bullied and/or ostracized over behavior that you can change is different from being bullied over your skin color. It is different whether you have a safe haven; or you do not. It is different whether it happens during the formative years or later. Etc, etc.

            Good postmodernism interrogates its own claims in the same way it interrogates the claims of others. Bad postmodernism is hypocritical.

            You say: “But this “culture” is a completely uncritical, unstudied, undefined idea that can only muddy the water.”

            Which is completely false, since culture is often criticized, studied and defined. Again, any extreme viewpoint that discounts all the criticisms, studies and definitions of ‘culture’, is going to have to consider concepts like ‘bullying’ and ‘ostracism’ to be completely uncritical, unstudied, undefined ideas that can only muddy the water.

            Yet you don’t even seem to recognize how your criticisms undermine your own claims.

            I feel like this is fairly standard LessWrong-flavoured, Bayes-lovin’, Internet-nerd style reasoning.

            You are veering more into MoreWrong territory, IMHO.

          • Phil H says:

            “Post-modernism”? Sorry, no. I’m asking for theoretical parsimony, a resolutely modern/scientific idea.

  16. Atlas says:

    (My last block quote comment for now, I promise!)

    In line with Scott’s concluding skepticism, there might be a certain amount of inscrutable randomness here that makes lessons/patterns/causes hard/impossible to divine. Steven Pinker had an interesting discussion of suicide rates in Enlightenment Now that made me doubt common reactionary talking points I had uncritically accepted previously. One of his arguments is that suicide isn’t as straightforward a measure of unhappiness as you might expect:

    Suicide, one might think, is the most reliable measure of societal unhappiness, in the same way that homicide is the most reliable measure of societal conflict. A person who has died by suicide must have suffered from unhappiness so severe that he or she decided that a permanent end to consciousness was preferable to enduring it. Also, suicides can be tabulated objectively in a way that the experience of unhappiness cannot.

    But in practice, suicide rates are often inscrutable. The very sadness and agitation from which suicide would be a release also addles a person’s judgment, so what ought to be the ultimate existential decision often hinges on the mundane matter of how easy it is to carry out the act. Dorothy Parker’s macabre poem “Resumé” (which ends, “Guns aren’t lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live”) is disconcertingly close to the mindset of a person contemplating suicide. A country’s suicide rate can soar or plummet when a convenient and effective method is widely available or taken away, such as coal gas in England in the first half of the 20th century, pesticides in many developing countries, and guns in the United States.52 Suicides increase during economic downturns and political turmoil, not surprisingly, but they are also affected by the weather and the number of daylight hours, and they increase when the media normalize or romanticize recent instances.53 Even the innocuous idea that suicide is an assay for unhappiness may be questioned. A recent study documented a “happiness-suicide paradox” in which happier American states and happier Western countries have slightly higher, rather than lower, suicide rates.54 (The researchers speculate that misery loves company: a personal setback is more painful when everyone around you is happy.) Suicide rates can be capricious for yet another reason. Suicides are often hard to distinguish from accidents (particularly when the cause is a poisoning or drug overdose, but also when it is a fall, a car crash, or a gunshot), and coroners may tilt their classifications in times and places in which suicide is stigmatized or criminalized.

    We do know that suicide is a major cause of death. In the United States there are more than 40,000 suicides a year, making it the tenth-leading cause of death, and worldwide there are about 800,000, making it the fifteenth-leading cause.55 Yet the trends over time and the differences among countries are hard to fathom. In addition to the age-cohort-period snarl, the lines for men and women often go in different directions. Though the suicide rate for women in developed countries fell by more than 40 percent between the mid-1980s and 2013, men kill themselves at around four times the rate of women, so the numbers for men tend to push the overall trends around.56 And no one knows why, for example, the world’s most suicidal countries are Guyana, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Lithuania, nor why France’s rate shot up from 1976 to 1986 and fell back down by 1999. [My emphasis]

  17. Atlas says:

    Another counterargument is that all Native American communities suffered a lot of displacement and alienation and modernization, but none of them suffered the same suicide spike as the Inuit. Sources disagree on the exact Native American suicide rate in the US, but it isn’t unusually high; the CDC numbers say it is slightly below the rate for non-Hispanic whites.

    That’s interesting, because my impression was that Native Americans tend to have depressingly high rates of deaths of despair. E.g. here are Steve Sailer’s comments on the county Raj Chetty’s data identified as the Worst Place to Raise Your Kids in America:

    In Chetty’s ranking of income impact on below average families, the single worst county for kids”€™ future income is Shannon, South Dakota. Raising your kids in Shannon County in the late 1990s, would likely drive down their income by 2011-12 by 35% relative to the average county in America.

    What’s so bad about Shannon County? Well, a quick glance at Wikipedia shows that since 2014, it’s been called Oglala Lakota County. This American Indian county is entirely within the notoriously tragic Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, font of all sorts of bad news since the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. It was the home of American Indian radicalism in the 1970s and is notorious today for its horrific alcoholism.

    Hence, Chetty’s system passes this first reality check well: If you”€™d asked me to name the Worst Place in America, Pine Ridge likely would have been among the first half dozen guesses I would have come up with.

    On the other hand, the example of Pine Ridge calls into question a key assumption in Chetty’s new methodology: that people moving between counties comprise a representative, random sample. But who in the world would move their children to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where 103 young people between ages 12 and 24 attempted suicide this winter? The Sioux who move away from Pine Ridge are likely the more determined and sober, while the ones who slink home, children in tow, are probably those defeated by life in the outside world.

  18. Atlas says:

    The other theory about Greenland is alcohol. Alcohol consumption in Greenland skyrocketed around the same time suicide did, reached levels that temporarily made Greenland by far the most alcoholic country in the world – then started declining around the same time suicide did. This seems to be a pattern when hunter-gatherers with no genetic or cultural resistance encounter alcohol for the first time – Native Americans in the 1700s got up to some crazy stuff…

    While genetics or culture may matter a little, overall I am just going to end with a blanket recommendation to avoid being part of any small circumpolar ethnic group that has just discovered alcohol.

    I imagine that many people here, including Scott, already know this, but to give the quoted conjecture some credibility to those who didn’t, Cochran and Harpending argue in The 10,000 Year Explosion that 1) agriculture accelerated the rate of human evolution and 2) tolerance of alcohol was one of those adaptions:

    Most populations that are highly vulnerable to type 2 diabetes also have increased risks of alcoholism. This is no coincidence. It’s not that the same biochemistry underlies both conditions, but that both stem from the same ultimate cause: limited previous exposure to agricultural diets, and thus limited adaptation to such diets. Booze inevitably accompanies farming. People have been brewing alcoholic beverages since the earliest days of agriculture: Beer may date back more than 8,000 years. There’s even a hypothesis that barley was first domesticated for use in brewing beer rather than bread. Essentially all agricultural peoples developed and routinely consumed some kind of alcoholic beverage. In those populations with long exposure, natural selection must have gradually increased the frequency of alleles that decreased the risk of alcoholism, due to its medical and social disadvantages.

    This process would have gone furthest in old agricultural societies and presumably would not have occurred at all among pure hunter-gatherers. We must wonder why farming peoples didn’t just evolve an aversion to alcohol. It seems as if that would have been a bad strategy, since moderate consumption of traditional, low-proof alcoholic drinks was almost certainly healthful. People who drank wine or beer avoided waterborne pathogens, which were a lethal threat in high-density populations. Alleles that reduced the risk of alcoholism therefore prevailed. There is also some reason to believe that populations that have been drinking alcohol for hundreds of generations may have also evolved metabolic changes that reduced some of alcohol’s other risks. In particular, we know that alcohol consumption by pregnant women can have devastating effects on their offspring. Those effects, called fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, include growth deficiency, facial abnormalities, and damage to the central nervous system.

    FAS is, however, far more common in some populations than in others: Its prevalence is almost thirty times higher in African American or Amerindian populations in the United States than it is among Europeans—even though the French, for example, have been known to take a drink or two. Some populations, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and their diaspora, may run higher risks of suffering from FAS than others consuming similar amounts of alcohol. If so, study of the alleles protecting against FAS in resistant populations might lead to greater understanding of the biochemical mechanisms underlying the syndrome. With luck, we might be able to use that information to decrease the incidence of FAS in vulnerable populations.

    This picture of adaptation to agricultural diets has two important implications: Populations today must vary in their degree of adaptation to such diets, depending on their historical experience, and populations must have changed over time.

  19. Atlas says:

    Does India itself have high suicide rates? On average, yes. But India has a lot of weird suicide microclimates. Statewide rates range from from 38 in Sikkim (higher than any country in the world) to 0.5 in Bihar (lower than any country in the world except Barbados). Indo-Guyanese mostly come from Bihar and other low-suicide regions. While I can’t rule out that the Indo-Guyanese come from some micro-micro-climate of higher suicidality, this guy claims to have traced them back to some of their ancestral villages and found that those villages have low suicide rates.

    This reminded me of the theory that there’s an inverse correlation between suicide and homicide rates. (E.g., Japan has a relatively high suicide rate and low homicide rate, Brazil has a relatively low suicide rate and high homicide rate.) Some discussion from The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America by Barry Latzer:

    Suicide and Homicide

    For over a century since Emile Durkheim first mentioned it, observers have been fascinated by the apparent inverse relationship between suicide and homicide. It remains a mystery still. Is it generally valid? And if so, why is it that population groups that murder others more kill themselves less? One explanation, propounded by psychologist Martin Gold, originator of the suicide-murder ratio, is that corporal punishment in child rearing leads to outwardly expressed aggression, while children punished psychologically, as opposed to physically, are more apt to turn their aggression against themselves. Gold linked child-rearing practices to social class: lower-class parents seemed to favor the strap over the scolding. He thought this explained why violent crime was much more common in the lower than in the middle class.84 What it does not explain is why violent crime rises and falls when social groups remain in the low socioeconomic stratum or why violent crime rates vary among these groups.

    Gold’s theory has not inspired much criminological research; nonetheless, studies suggest that the relationship cannot be dismissed out of hand. While criminologists have shown, for instance, that homicide rates are lower among poor whites than poor blacks, family researchers have found that low-income African American parents spank their toddlers significantly more frequently than low-income white parents.85 Subsequent research on suicide by psychiatrist Herbert Hendin has thrown cold water on the entire suicide-homicide theory.86 His 1960s study of young African Americans aged 20 to 35 found exceptionally high suicide rates. Indeed, suicide was twice as frequent among young blacks of both sexes as among white men of the same age. The oft-observed black-white suicide differentials, it turns out, were products of a failure to take age into account.

    After age 45, suicide among whites was so much higher than among blacks of the same age that the total white rate rose above the total black.87 Both suicide and homicide, Hendin argued, are driven by impulses of extreme violence, which may be directed at another person, inward toward the seething actor himself, or, as with homicide-suicide, both. Some homicides, as criminologist Marvin Wolfgang noted, are victim-precipitated, that is, caused by the the actor. A subcategory of these suicides disguised as homicides is referred to as “suicide by cop.” which occurs when the actor engages in violent behavior knowing that it probably will provoke fatal retaliation by the authorities.88 “Suicide,” Hendin wrote, “is often the outgrowth of a devastating struggle to deal with conscious rage and conscious murderous impulses.” In the case of young blacks, he noted, high rates of both homicide and suicide coexist and have done so at least as far back as the 1920s. Hendin concluded, “Among young adult blacks there is a direct relation, not an inverse one, between suicide and violence. It rests on the particular black experience in our culture, an experience that generates violence within blacks and presents them with a problem of controlling it.”89

    And then with regard to the postulated “culture of violence” of the South specifically:

    Scholars discovered the southern crime problem when historian Sheldon Hackney published his influential article “Southern Violence” in 1969.76 In truth, they rediscovered it, since H. C. Brearley had addressed the southern crime issue in the early 1930s, as had H. V. Redfield, back in 1880.77 Hackney framed much of his discussion around the inverse correlation between homicide and suicide, first identified by sociologist Emile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century. The correlation is intriguing, for it seems, uncannily, that population groups with high homicide rates have low suicide rates, and vice versa. As Durkheim, speaking about European countries, observed, homicide “confers a sort of immunity against suicide.” In nations such as Spain, Ireland, and Italy, which have the least suicide, he found that “nowhere else is murder so common.”78

    Hackney employed a suicide-homicide ratio (SHR), utilizing the following formula: 100 × suicide rate ÷ (suicide rate + homicide rate). The closer the SHR comes to 100, the more the group engages in suicide in relation to homicide; the lower the SHR, the higher the incidence of homicide in relation to suicide. Hackney’s SHRs for southerners and for the entire United States, differentiated by race, appear in table 2.8. Among whites, Hackney concluded, “southerners show a relatively greater preference than do nonsoutherners for murder rather than suicide,” and African Americans, regardless of region, “commit murder much more often than they commit suicide.” Hackney continued, “High murder and low suicide rates constitute a distinctly southern pattern of violence, one that must rank with the caste system and ahead of mint juleps in importance as a key to the meaning of being southern.”79

    I was reminded of this by the mention of Bihar, which was one of the case studies in Rachel Kleinfeld’s book A Savage Order. (Self-explanatory subtitle: “How the World’s Deadliest Countries can Forge a Path to Security.”) For the sake of readability, I’ll post the excerpts in a separate comment.

    • Atlas says:

      Life in Bihar was Nasty, Poor, Brutish and Short and Full of Interest:

      Colombia looked hopeless in 2002, but Bihar, India, faced even worse odds when Nitish Kumar became chief minister—a role equivalent to a state governor—in 2005. Bihar’s population at the time was larger than Germany’s, but its per capita income was on par with Eritrea’s, the fifth-poorest nation on earth. Only 13 percent of households in Bihar had electricity in 2000. Less than 1 percent had a telephone.47 Ninety percent of the population was rural, and 81 percent worked in agriculture.48 In the dust along the roads sat men so poor they wore only loincloths. Those a little better off still plowed the fields with oxen. In the villages, families slept in mud barns in the hay alongside their cow or goat, their only valuable possession. Illiterate and innumerate, “we are no better than these animals,” one man told me in 2000, weeping.

      The poverty would have been daunting even for a more functional state. But when Kumar held his first press conference as chief minister and pledged to establish the rule of law, the audience laughed.49 Kidnapping for ransom was Bihar’s one growth industry, fueled by politicians who provided political cover to criminal gangs. An efficient supply chain distributed a cut of the proceeds to all: “a politician or a group to provide protection, a gangster to mastermind the activity, a group of people to carry out the abduction, another group to hide the victim, another set to arrange the transfer of money.” The business was so established that “specialized abductors worked on credit.”50 Between 1992 and 2005, Biharis reported thirty thousand kidnappings.51 People with moderate wealth traveled with bodyguards and were convinced that if they went to a dealer to buy a car or applied for a permit to build a house, they would receive an extortion note by the end of the day. Investment stagnated.52 Bihar contained 8 percent of India’s population in 2000, but its dusty provincial capital, Patna, accounted for 40 percent of all murders with firearms in all cities across India.53 The author of a book on Indian democracy reflected that “if Bihar were an independent country, such conditions of breakdown would by now have precipitated a military coup, or external intervention, or some combination of the two.”54

      Remember, apparently this place has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world.

      A big part of the problem was apparently the system of landlordism, with a caste dimension:

      Bihar’s problems had begun under British rule. Colonial Britain governed India with only a thin presence on the ground. Under the zamindar system it established, local landholders in northern India were granted the power to levy taxes that would be passed on to the colonists. Like southern plantation owners and Colombian ranchers, the landholders were empowered to act as judge, jury, and sometimes executioner of those under their sway.55

      When India gained independence in 1947, Bihar’s poor had been promised equal rights and the chance to own land. The poor were numerous, which should have given them voting power in a democracy. But with few possible jobs other than working the local landlords’ fields, Bihar’s low-caste poor relied on the landlords for survival, creating a near-feudal relationship sanctioned by centuries of history and religious tradition. Landowners rounded up workers tied to their land and forced them to vote for Congress, the landlords’ preferred party. Collusion between the economic and the political leaders of the state enriched both. After independence, landowners stole fields and paid corrupt, upper-caste bureaucrats to fake new land titles and legalize the theft.56 The national government set maximum limits on landownership to legislate fairer distribution, but in Bihar the effort largely failed. In the early 2000s, when researchers looked at Bihari landholdings far above government maximums, they often found politicians listed as owners.57 Meanwhile, Bihar was ruled as a one-party state from independence until 1990. With the exception of one tumultuous year following 1975–1977 when voters threw out the Congress Party, disgusted with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s suspension of democracy and instatement of emergency rule, Congress was always in control.58…

      This led to a Maoist insurgency:

      By the late 1960s, Bihar’s lower castes and poor had grown tired of fighting to make their voices heard through the supposedly “democratic” system. Around the world, university students were turning to Marxism for answers to the inequality and misery that surrounded them. They organized poor northern Indian villages, using Communist consciousness-raising sessions to teach peasant day laborers that they had rights, that there was a minimum wage in India, and that landlords were not allowed to rape Dalit women. Poverty-stricken Indians began to train as Maoist guerrillas. Known locally as Naxals for the birthplace of the Maoist movement in Naxalbari village, the guerrillas organized laborers to
      murder their landlords. India was soon engulfed by terrorist violence, crime, and political agitation.

      Maoist terror declined during emergency rule, but the repression backfired, and Naxals returned even stronger after it ended. The government then made the classic mistake of relinquishing its monopoly on force. After a wave of Maoist attacks, magistrates were sent to violent districts to issue landholders with gun licenses on the spot.71 The rural lords formed private armies to defend themselves. As in Colombia, the landlords also used their armies to uphold their system of wealth and power. In 1971, for instance, fourteen Dalits were murdered and their village utterly destroyed after a group of laborers asked to receive the minimum wage for their work.72 With landlords in control of hundreds of votes, politicians shrugged off the use of militias to control peasants. Moreover, political parties also relied on the militias for help around election time.73 A well-known party activist with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even moonlighted as the head of the Ranvir Sena, an umbrella militia.74 While the state ignored militia violence, it cracked down on the guerrilla menace. Security forces targeted tribal and Dalit communities believed to be sympathetic to the guerrillas. Extrajudicial executions and torture of accused Naxalites, often innocent villagers, became common. With the deadly triangle of Privilege Violence complete, savagery intensified. Between 2001 and 2005, Bihar had 1,309 Naxalite-related violent incidents, 760 civilian deaths, and 141 “armed encounters” in which security forces were responsible for killing. Retaliatory violence escalated between the Maoists and the militias. “We kill children because they will grow up to become Naxalites,” explained one Ranvir Sena leader. “We kill women because they will give birth to Naxalites.”75

  20. Ketil says:

    Counties of Norway, with average alcohol consumption. Sorted roughly from north to south, I don’t think it supports the theory of more drinking at higher lattitudes much. Eyeballing the data, I would say the counties known for high religiosity drink less, densely populated areas more – with the date possibly confounded by illegal alcohol in rural areas.

    Finmark 5,55
    Troms 6,90
    Nordland 6,61
    Nord-Trøndelag 5,28
    Sør-Trøndelag 7,15
    Møre og Romsdal 5,50
    Sogn og Fjordane 4,75
    Hedmark 5,47
    Oppland 5,94
    Hordaland 6,74
    Rogaland 6,16
    Buskerud 6,50
    Akershus 7,69
    Telemark 5,93
    Oslo 10,87
    Østfold 4,32
    Vestfold 6,68
    Aust-Agder 6,05
    Vest-Agder 4,96

    Edit: also a map for Europe here, which similarly fails to support the hypothesis:

    https://twitter.com/russian_market/status/416228105129558016?lang=en

    • Ketil says:

      Also the Sami people have suicide rates on par with the population at large (not that it stops social scientist from blaming it on oppression and colonial attitudes in former times, of course), and apparently they drink less, in part, but not completely due to a large number of tee-totalers.

  21. alexmennen says:

    > Indo-Guyanese mostly come from Bihar and other low-suicide regions.

    If more suicide-prone people were more likely to leave for Guyana as indentured laborers, then that could explain both the high suicide rates of Indo-Guyanese and the low suicide rates of the regions they came from: their suicide-promoting genes are in Guyana.

  22. hnau says:

    One counterargument to this story is that Nuuk has the lowest suicide rate in Greenland, and the more remote the village, the worse the suicide crisis. Maybe you could argue that everywhere was modernized and disrupted and alienated but at least a big city has some interesting stuff to do. This would kind of match the American experience, where it’s small towns in West Virginia that are getting hit by the opioid crisis and deaths of despair.

    I buy the similarity but not the explanation. Just off the top of my head here are three explanations more plausible than “niche, hipster-y attractions keep alienated people from less-modernized cultures from committing suicide”:
    1. Population effects. Big cities are more cosmopolitan so the statistical signal from particular groups is diluted.
    2. Selection effects. The kind of person who moves to a big city is less likely to be disrupted and alienated by modernity.
    3. Cultural effects. Maybe big-city melting pot cultures have better defenses against modern social alienation.

  23. Jakub Łopuszański says:

    Given that Sikkim is in “easterly nothern” direction from Bihar, perhaps suicidal people travel from one to another causing low rate in Bihar and higher in Sikkim?

  24. George3d6 says:

    I wonder if there are some un-tracked criteria that lead of whether or not someone commits suicide at a “breaking point”.

    That is to say, when happens to you, there’s multiple things you can do ranging from having a glass of wine, whining to a friend to binge drinking for a week and finally to suicide.

    Maybe there’s not more “breaking points” in those specific societies (shitty things happening to people), there’s just an innate cultural difference as to how they respond to them.

    I can imagine two people that are relatively similar that failed to flee Soviet Berlin before the wall came up, waking up to the realization that they are now trapped in a progressing hellscape.

    The only difference between them could be that one is a fan of Camus and the other one likes reading Nietzsche, I think something as little as that, could draw the line between:

    * Ok, I’m going to off myself by running into the armed guards, life’s unfair and nonsensical
    and
    * Ok, I guess it’s time to drink and try to get try to get laid, life’s unfair and nonsensical

    Suicide is a very personal thing, I think we’d probably be as shocked to know our friends preferences towards suicide (under what circumstances they’d try to commit it), as we’d be to learn what kind of weird fetishes they have.

  25. Greenland had a referendum on alcohol prohibition back in 1978, it failed with 45% of the vote:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978_Greenlandic_alcohol_referendum

    Maybe they ought to try that again.

  26. Jaldhar says:

    > Did you know that the Ramayana ends with Rama, three of brothers, and the entire population of his kingdom committing mass suicide by drowning?

    Yeah not really. Project Gutenberg has Griffiths English translation of the Ramayana, specifically this episode, here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24869/24869-h/24869-h.html#toc1011. (pp 520-521)

    As you can see Rama is an avatar of Vishnu Bhagavan who He merges back into now that His earthly task is done. The emphasis is on His divine nature and. It is rather a stretch to see it as condoning human suicide.

    And that’s from the Sanskrit Ramayana which the populations the Indo-Guyanese stem from would be unlikely to be familiar with. Rather they would know the Ramacharitamanasa, the medieval Awadhi translation by Tulsidas. This version omits the episode altogether.

    > Or that the mahaparasthana is a traditional Hindu method of suicide “where the person walks in a north easterly direction, subsisting only on water and air, until his body sinks to rest”?

    Same kind of thing. It’s like saying “Sitting on top of pillars is a traditional Christian method of monasticism.” True but hardly relevant to today.

    The only widespread specifically “religious” suicide in India I am aware of is amongst Jains. Some Jain monks fast to death as that is considered the most non-violent way to go. But Jains are not represented amongst the Indo-Guyanese.

    Having said all that, there is in contemporary Hindu culture an idea of suicide being an answer to perceived loss of status or family honor etc. (particularly for women. Have the statistics been broken down by sex?) but it is unclear why that would explain Guyana.

    Two possible controls to test the socio-religious hypothesis:

    1. A proportion of the Indo-Guyanese are Muslims from the same geographical areas in India. Are they as prone to suicide?

    2. Trinidad has a large Hindu population who also arrived from the same parts of India as indentured labor. Are they as prone to suicide?

  27. Douglas Knight says:

    Everyone complaining about small sample sizes is correct.

    Looking at outliers is good for forming hypotheses, but it’s not good for drawing conclusions. Once you start with Greenland Inuits, you should systematically explore Eskimos, not jumping to Siberian outliers. Maybe you tried to exhaust Eskimos, but I don’t trust any source talking about Alaskan Inuit. Once you move on to Siberians, you should do them systematically.

    ————

    You abandoned the thread of Indians. I think that would be hard to study systematically, but valuable. When I think of Indian populations, I think of Trinidad and Tobago. Apparently Indians have a high suicide rate there, too, but I don’t have numbers.

    0.5 in Bihar (lower than any country in the world except Barbados). Indo-Guyanese mostly come from Bihar and other low-suicide regions. While I can’t rule out that the Indo-Guyanese come from some micro-micro-climate of higher suicidality, this guy claims to have traced them back to some of their ancestral villages and found that those villages have low suicide rates.

    But note that the “extremely low rate” was 6, an order of magnitude higher than the Bihar generally.

  28. keaswaran says:

    I was confused about that suicide map of the US, because it seemed to be anti-correlated with altitude, while I had heard that suicide is correlated with high altitude. But it turns out you posted a map of *alcohol* in the US, rather than suicide, which looks like this: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/suicide-mortality/suicide.htm

    It seems that for some reason altitude is correlated with drinking less (perhaps because it takes less to get you drunk at high altitude) but it still correlates with suicide, even though drinking and suicide are correlated.

  29. Douglas Knight says:

    Chukchi … may be distantly related to the Inuit

    I believe that you have misinterpreted your source. I believe that what makes Chukchi distinctive is that they are related to Indians, that is, Iroquois and Inca, not any more closely to Inuit and any other Siberians.

  30. johan_larson says:

    The title of this article sounds like a group tour organized for the most specialized of tastes.

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      a group tour organized for the most specialized of tastes.

      Like Logan Paul fans.

      Too soon?

  31. hnau says:

    But in the process of telling us exactly what kind of claims we should avoid, she mentions someone bringing up that “80% of the reported suicides are carried out by Indo-Guyanese”.

    In case anyone else had the same question I did: This group is roughly 30% of Guyana’s population.

  32. andrewnwest says:

    I’ve always thought of this as memetic, like the Japanese trend of teenage girls hanging themselves in the forest (in the 90s I think). Once you get the idea that this is a suitable response to adversity, it’s an option where normally it wouldn’t have been.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide talks about this, notably suicide contagion. Perhaps if this keeps going over several years, it becomes ingrained in the culture and everyone knows about it. You then can’t easily break out of the cycle.

    I live in Estonia, and perhaps it’s relevant that it’s a small country where you run into people you know on the street every day, even in Tallinn. It’s much more likely that you know someone who committed suicide.

    Most of the groups with longer term suicide rates that are quoted are small by population (Hungary the temporary exception), and while that isn’t all that’s required, perhaps it’s a precondition. Temporary suicide spikes could happen in larger countries due to high profile cases like a celebrity suicide, but they’re more likely to happen in small countries, and they’re more likely to persist in the smallest and perhaps even the tightest knit.

    This rather worryingly means that if you can get the “right” set of ideas in a particular group’s minds, you could elevate their suicide rates.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      But small groups are ceteris paribus more likely to be extreme on any dimension.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think the Greenlandic Inuit, Canadian Inuit, and Alaskan Inuit talk to each other much. I’m not even sure that Canadian Inuit on different islands talk to each other much.

  33. Chris Said says:

    I’m not sure what to believe about trends in Inuit suicide rates. On the one hand, official records from Greenland registries show very low rates in 1971 (from the paper you linked to).

    On the other hand, a lot of the early qualitative anthropology literature on Inuit communities describes suicide as widespread.

    Hoebel 1941 describes suicide as “accepted” by the society:

    “Suicide by the senile, the invalided and hunters faced by drowning in a storm, is also widespread.”

    Leighton and Hughes, 1955 describe suicide as a “common occurrence” on St Lawrence Island. One of their main sources in the community had personally observed over 30 suicides.

  34. Douglas Knight says:

    You left out the vitally important fact that Udmurts have the highest rate of red hair in the world.

  35. Act_II says:

    The book about the Indian diaspora you quoted said this:

    […] this emphasis on the scarcity of women disregards the arduous circumstances in which the indentured labourers were working, and the disruption of the “integrative institutions” of society – family, marriage, caste, kinship, and religion – as the underlying causes of suicide and other ills affecting the Indian indentured labour population.

    You kind of handwaved this, but I think gets at something pretty plausible. Plenty of populations live in arduous circumstances, but a lot fewer ALSO come from a culture with highly structured social institutions that they then lose. In other words:
    -If you live in hard circumstances, but your culture has strong institutions that provide social support, you might be alright.
    -If your culture doesn’t provide social support, but your general quality of life is still tolerable, you might be alright.
    -If you live in hard circumstances AND you have little social support, your risk of suicide is probably much higher.

    For Indian laborers, the institutions that provided social support for them might have been pretty hard to import. You can’t really import a caste-structured society; you can’t really import an emphasis on family unless your whole extended family immigrated; you can’t really import the religion when everybody is too busy being a laborer to also be a priest and build temples. Contrast this with indigenous laborers, some of whom may have been able to mostly preserve critical institutions despite colonialism.

    This also explains the Inuits, I think. It looks like their traditional way of life actually was destroyed. Like you said, the Inuits in Nuuk are less likely to commit suicide than the ones in remote villages. I think this is not because “a big city has more interesting stuff to do,” but because living in a city lets you replace your destroyed institutions with new ones and generally have a higher quality of life. In the remote villages, I’m guessing the culture is just as unsustainable, but there’s nothing else there to fill the void.

    This also feels like an inverted version of Lester’s hypothesis about the Chukchi. Maybe the Siberian cultures are more suicidal not because they have specific suicide-encouraging traditions, but because they lack suicide-discouraging ones. The groups don’t have to be related to one another for this to be the case; they can just have all coincidentally failed to develop good enough institutions to prevent high suicide rates. Maybe the same even used to be true of Finno-Ugric groups, but that changed once their quality of life improved enough.

    All this is raw speculation, of course. I have no real knowledge of any of these groups outside of what I read in this post.

    • rr30 says:

      I believe the lack of support systems must be an important factor. I hypothesised in my head that this must be a driving cause, searched for the word ‘support’ among the comments and this comment came closest to my hypothesis.

      Sudden lack of support systems in terms of customs, extended family, opportunity to vent or find avenues to engage and find peace etc in a community newly isolated and displaced from its roots should definitely play an important role. Basically the learning from their age old culture of ‘if someone is feeling down / suicidal, this is what we should do’ is lost.

      Another factor touched upon by some comments: Maybe there is an element of acceptance of suicide as a part of life in some of these cultures? Maybe it is not as taboo as Western societies portray and measure it to death (sorry for the pun).

  36. Basically no Indians went anywhere else in South America, and nowhere else in South America has anywhere near the suicide rate of these two countries.

    Trinidad and Tobago(not technically in South America) has a similarly high Indian population.

  37. notpeerreviewed says:

    The anthropology blogger Policy Tensor has a lot to say about the impact of climate on culture, though I must admit I haven’t read most of it: https://policytensor.com/2018/08/19/do-stature-and-bmi-contain-information-on-living-standards-or-adaptation-to-climate/

  38. alphago says:

    But the Finno-Ugric hypothesis can’t explain the Chukchi, Evenks, Nenets, Koryaks, and Udmurts. Sure, the Udmurts are Finno-Ugric. And the Nenets are closely related. But the Chukchi, Evenks, and Koryaks aren’t. It’s tempting to group all of these tiny Siberian ethnic groups together, but eg the Evenks are more closely related to the Japanese than they are to the Nenets (despite living right next to them). Any genetic hypothesis flounders on the sheer genetic diversity and unrelatedness of this region.

    Is it really true that the Nenets are closely related to Udmerts but the Chukchi aren’t (or Evenks closer to Japanese)? I’d be curious to see a link to genetic data, but superficially the Udmerts look basically white, and the Nenets and Chukchi look more like indigenous asian. And seems like a key component of his argument against the finno-ugric hypothesis

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m going off of language families, which classifies Nenets, Udmurts, and Finns in the Uralic languages, but Evenks in the Tungusic languages. I’m not sure what’s going on with their apparent ethnicity and maybe the languages aren’t as good a guide as I thought. Do any anthropologists or paleo-linguists want to comment?

      Even if I’m wrong about this, I think the overall point still stands, since the Siberian alcoholism/high-suicide rate affects very disparate people (white-looking and Asian-looking), while there are many white and Asian groups without the same problems.

      • alphago says:

        Yeah, I don’t think language families are a very reliable way to get at admixture in this case, e.g. see some relevant admixture results here [1]. It looks like some uralic speaking groups are mostly white with quite small amounts of asian admixture (e.g. Finnish), others like Saami have a bit more asian admixture, and other uralic people are mostly Asian (e.g. nganasan), apparently fairly similar to other indiginous Siberian groups that don’t speak uralic languages.

        Also, I could be wrong, but my sense is that you are being too quick to rule out the plausible theory that indigenous siberian (and intuit) admixture is associated with an increased genetic risk for suicide, given that the rate is generally extremely high among mostly asian-indigenous populations (e.g. chuchki and evenks are >100), intermediate among somewhat admixed populations like Saami (around 19), and lower but still elevated for the slightly admixed Finlanders 13.8, compared to 10.1 in Norway. Also, it’s true that the indigenous Siberians are related to Japanese (who have elevated, but still much lower suicide rates: 14.3), but there is still substantial genetic difference between those groups and the Japanese.

        But I agree it’s complicated and difficult to explain every case with any mono-causal theory (e.g. why was Finnish rate much higher before), and certainly confounded with potential cultural similarities among these groups, which it sounds like is your preferred theory (e.g. recent exposure to alchohol, etc).

        [1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07483-5/figures/2

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Are language families a good way of grouping Siberians? It’s got to be better than nothing, though maybe it’s worse than looking at them. But using it for Finns and Hungarians is a bad idea. Hungarians are 95% Slavs and 5% Steppe conquerors. Finns probably have more Siberian ancestry, but it probably came in multiple waves, from people who spoke Uralic languages and from people who spoke other languages.

        David Reich finds that the Nenets are very close Evenks, but both close to the Altai proper and the Mongols. Whereas the Chukchi and Koryak are closely related to Eskimo-speakers, such as their neighbors the Nauk (it was I who misread my source). I don’t know what he says about the Udmurt.

  39. TJ2001 says:

    The other side of this is that maybe we ought to not turn up our noses at some of these “Problems” in other cultures… It’s not like these cultural norms just (completely) popped up out of nowhere…. They typically have some sort of basis…

    For example – in many “warrior type” cultures – suicide in battle was considered preferable to being captured and abused/tortured or even “losing” and being enslaved and suffering perpetual shame of defeat..

    I sometimes wonder about this whole bit about declaring different cultures “Wrong” in a matter where it’s not really harming us… It’s just different….

    For example – in Christian religious tradition – there is a promise that all tribes, nations, languages, ethnicities, and cultures will show up in heaven to welcome God… Yet at the same time there is tremendous pressure to “convert” people out of their culture into western culture under the guise of “religion”….. You can’t have both at the same time…

    • Beans says:

      I don’t think there’s much turning-up-of-the-nose going on here, it’s that in general, dying has a lot of disadvantages and therefore it seems reasonable to try and stop premature deaths. If there’s a cultural reason why suicide seems more compelling to certain groups going through hard times, why not try to remove the systematic bad circumstances leading these people to kill themselves? It sounds like you are saying we should sit back, watch them die, and pat ourselves on the back for being good cultural-relativists.

    • gleamingecho says:

      For example – in Christian religious tradition – there is a promise that all tribes, nations, languages, ethnicities, and cultures will show up in heaven to welcome God… Yet at the same time there is tremendous pressure to “convert” people out of their culture into western culture under the guise of “religion”….. You can’t have both at the same time…

      I think this is probably an oversimplification. There are lots of Christian religious traditions. In traditions that take a stricter reading of verses like John 14:6, I’d expect more pressure to convert or evangelize other groups (or to at least assert that not Christian = not going to Heaven). OTOH, I’d expect that more syncretist/pluralist/liberal traditions would take a more liberal reading of such verses, or ignore them entirely.

      Thus, while there would be apparent contradictions between different nominally Christian traditions in the manner you suggest, I would expect there to be fewer contradicitions within each different tradition.

  40. Aerroon says:

    The theory has some superficial plausibility – in the 1990s, the world’s first, second, and third most suicidal countries were Finland, Hungary, and Estonia – all Finno-Ugric. Their surrounding non-Finno-Ugric neighbors, like Sweden or Austria, were unremarkable, so a genetic hypothesis made sense.

    I would like to nit pick on this paragraph. While it is true that Estonia had a very high suicide rate during the 90s, so did the other two Baltic states (neighbors): Latvia and Lithuania. They are not Finno-Ugric. Estonia’s and Latvia’s suicide rate came down at the end of the 90s and throughout the 2000s, but Lithuania’s stayed relatively high. Lithuania’s suicide rate is still one of the highest in the world.

    Source, pages 9, 14, 18: http://suicidology.ee/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Suicides-in-Eastern-Europe-RR-13-001-web.pdf

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Agreed – this is the same argument I make about Nenets vs. Evenks in the next paragraph, and seems true of European countries as well.

  41. Tenacious D says:

    Here’s a heart-breaking article about some of the indigenous communities in Brazil with suicide rates much greater than the national average: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/canada-indigenous-suicide-crisis-in-brazil/article34199700/

  42. N.K Anton says:

    As a member of the South Asian/East Indian diaspora, my impression of Indo-Guyanese and other Indo-Carribean was that they are more likely to engage in alcohol and weed consumption – compared to other diaspora communities. Generally, they’re stereotyped as having more family and social dysfunction.

    I don’t have any statistics to back this up though. I took a look at the WHO’s Global Alcohol Report. According to the WHO, Guyana’s alchohol-attributable fractions for all deaths (2016) was 6.4 overall and 10.2 for men. India’s was 5.4 overall and 8.6 for men. They don’t have data by ethnic group for either unfortunately.

    However, this NPR article notes that “approximately 70 percent of the country’s suicides occur in these rural regions. Osunbiyi says that in these communities, many people turn to alcohol and self-harm to cope with feelings of hopelessness, poverty and economic despair” and that “A 2010 study by the Pan American Health Organization reported nearly 80 percent of Guyanese adolescents had their first drink before the age of 14, and some children try alcohol for the first time in elementary school. ”

    Also, is there any analysis regarding the type of alcohol consummed? It seems coincidental that all the places with stereotypically high suicide rates mentioned consume primarly spirits?

  43. brungl says:

    For reference “22 liters of pure alcohol per capita per year” translates to roughly “30 standard drinks per capita per week”.

    • Roebuck says:

      I always preferred “a 500ml bottle of 40% vodka” and “a 500ml glass/bottle of 5% beer” as units.

      22 litres would be 110 bottles of vodka. One every 3 days. For each adult.

      • gbdub says:

        on average

        • Roebuck says:

          Yes, that’s an important point.

          I remember seeing this list, which suggests that countries containing most of Europe’s population drink at least 11 litres of alcohol per adult.

          Not as impressive as 22 litres, but still one bottle of vodka per week. And I was hypothesising that you can probably subtract 30-50% for women and add 30-50% for men. And that the distribution is probably right skewed. As a result, there would be tens of millions of Europeans who exceed the Inuit average of a bottle of vodka every 3 days.

  44. convie says:

    I’m not sure you can correlate alcohol consumption with latitude considering the lowest alcohol consumers are all Muslim countries where alcohol is often forbidden.

    • Roebuck says:

      Well… the most obvious response is ‘culture evolved to include this habit (and generate a supernatural justification) because the environment warranted this habit’.

      I can imagine it being too easy to dehydrate yourself through alcohol down there.

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        Or conversely, heavy drinking wasn’t a big part of the culture, so Mohammed didn’t encounter much resistance when he wanted to ban it.

        • Nietzsche says:

          Also, alcohol was a Christian sacrament. By choosing hashish over alcohol as the ritual inebriant, early Islam could further distinguish itself from Christianity.

      • bullseye says:

        I would imagine that someone traveling the desert would worry about dehydration, but Mohammed himself was from a city and cities have wells.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This is why I included the US and Japanese maps. There’s a similar-looking one for Canada, but it’s confounded by a lot of the northernmost people in Canada being Inuit.

      I couldn’t get maps for any other large high-latitude-change country except Norway, which doesn’t follow the pattern, but I think that’s confounded by urbanization being higher in the south.

      This article – https://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/10/30/high-rates-binge-drinking-may-be-caused-extreme-latitude – suggests it may be binge drinking, rather than alcohol quantity – which is influenced by geography.

  45. Zephalinda says:

    How much do we actually trust the official numbers for suicides in remote areas, across different cultures/institutional structures, and over substantial periods of time?

    Suicide reporting seems like it’d be unusually vulnerable to issues with cultural differences in definitions (one village’s “suicide” may be another’s “oops, happened to fall off a hill while drunk”); to motivated reasoning based on the reporter’s sense of the act as shameful/praiseworthy; and to deliberate falsification under pressure from families or in legal/religious systems where the cause of death makes a material difference to the survivors. So for at least some of these anomalies, should our assumption be “bad reporting” rather than “hmm, cool suicide microclimate”?

  46. Mindflayer94 says:

    Alcohol was found in the blood of 75 – 80% of Nenets suicides.

    I had heard in American contexts that alcohol was a major factor in suicide, with the reasoning often being along these lines, so I took a quick look at the literature to see how this compares with other cultures (or at least other estimates of the effect of alcohol). Most of the papers I could find seem to go back to this meta-analysis with regards to the effect of acute alcohol use on sucidality. Unfortunately, it claims that alcohol was present in anywhere from 10% to 69% of cases. It goes on to give potential reasons for the large discrepency, in summary, the suicide literature is a mess.

    A more recent literature review turns on an alternative hypothesis for the wide range in lines with Scott’s proposal:

    Post-mortem investigations have revealed that alcohol was in the blood of 45% of Swedish [101], 36–40% in Finnish [102,103], 35–48% of Estonian [104]; 28–29% of American [105,106] and 20% of Dutch [107] suicide victims.

    A cultural difference in the link between acute alcohol use and sucidality. This lines up roughly with the wide range of results found in the first work, which does indeed draw it’s reviewed papers from a bunch of different cultures.

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      Am I a bad person for wondering what percentage of Finns have alcohol in their blood *right now*?

      I would imagine that in cultures where heavy drinking is common, a lot of people would get drunk before doing something emotionally difficult.

      • gbdub says:

        This was my thought as well. I am not suicidal, but if I were, I imagine I’d prefer to do so only after a couple servings of fine bourbon.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Then again, if you decided to hang yourself, and you drank at all – wouldn’t you take a drop first?

  47. true-chaotic says:

    Hilariously (in a bad way) websites routinely get blocked at ISP level in Russia, for “descriptions of ways of commiting suicide”. Not even glorification and stuff. Anything that can be considered an instruction how to do it.

    One of the first notable blocks was, of course, GitHub, because of a joke text in one of the repositories there.

    One can but ponder the intricacies of the brain capable of thinking of and unironically implementing such a “regulation”.

    Those Chukchi must have been lurking GitHub too much, that must be the real cause!

  48. Joseph Greenwood says:

    What are y’all’s impressions regarding the good and bad that alcohol does overall, and in your experience? I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon”), so I don’t have any firsthand experience with alcohol, but the narrative I have absorbed is that, at least in areas with access to clean drinking water, alcohol constitutes a net harm with little upside. In extreme cases, alcohol can contribute to suicides or reckless deaths, or rapes, or other crimes and misdemeanors. This is to say nothing of health effects, which also can influence children if the alcohol is drunken by a pregnant woman. But even in the short term, it would seem that alcohol contributes to loss of control and maybe awareness, which doesn’t seem appealing to me?

    Am I falling prey to an availability bias, because I can easily recall bad effects but am discounting the good ones? Is there a fat tailed distribution on alcohol outcomes, so that in a few sparse cases drinking alcohol leads to very bad consequences, but most of the time it yields slightly positive ones? Is something else going on?

    • Murphy says:

      Would society be, on average, slightly better off if alcohol wasn’t a thing or couldn’t be imbibed by humans?

      Probably.

      Growing up, almost nobody around me was teetotal but also nobody in my family or families circle had any problems with alcoholism. But that’s boring so you’re more likely to hear about the trainwrecks.

      Most of what you say about alcohol applies to many things.

      Chocolate likely contributes to obesity and poor health. But I wouldn’t be happy about someone deciding to ban chocolate to keep it away from me for my own good.

      Chocolate probably doesn’t provide any grand wonderfulness to the world to balance the people dying from heart failure related to the obesity… but it does provide a lot of small pleasures that make life richer.

      Alcohol occupies a similar space for a lot of people. Small pleasures and some loosened inhibitions for the shy and nervous. Nothing worldshaking.

      But there do seem to be some very serious downsides to prohibition of alcohol itself. it’s effectively uncontrollable since it’s so easily made and there’s a guaranteed demand so it’s guaranteed to generate an illicit market. The american experiment on the matter seemed to leave people worse off than when the started since it switched so many people from weak alcoholic drinks to spirits.

      • The american experiment on the matter seemed to leave people worse off than when the started since it switched so many people from weak alcoholic drinks to spirits.

        Cirrhosis death rates showed a very steep decrease during prohibition and a recovery thereafter. The question is not “can you prevent every drop being consumed” but “can you drive up the price and drive down the quality of the experience enough to prevent a large group from bothering? Yes you can. The real reason prohibition was ended was because of a combination of economic illiteracy and public acceptance of pigouvian taxes. People thought during the great depression that allowing alcohol would create more jobs, not realizing that money spent to purchase alcohol would lead to less being spent on other products and so not nearly as much change as they anticipated.(One should expect some job growth as some of those dollars would have been diverted from savings. If creating inflation was the goal, it could have been accomplished much more easily. In addition, the process of alcohol production would be moved above ground and made more efficient, thus reducing amounts spent on it when illicit users switched to buying legally.) And the government wanted to increase its revenue and realized that taxes on alcohol would lead to far less resistance than taxes on other products.

        If the Great Depression didn’t happen it’s quite likely that alcohol could still be nominally illegal on the federal level, and some states would fight it just as they fight other illegal drugs.

    • edmundgennings says:

      In small numbers of cases it causes very bad very visible problems, (it can also cause very bad but less visible problems)but in the normal case it causes moderately positive one’s. The change in style of thinking is situational, but often quite useful.
      Also the health effects of resonable consumption levels in many populations are a net positive (ethanal is cardioprotective)

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        I’m almost certain that alcohol abuse rates are high enough in the United States that alcohol is a net harm, though I admit it’s hard to make the comparison when the positive and negative effects are so qualitatively different.

    • DinoNerd says:

      What I see is that some cultures have worked alcohol into their standard social rituals, and disrupting those rituals would be unhelpful. Others either haven’t done so, or have already had that part of their culture severely disrupted by alien legal systems.

      There are also significant differences between individuals, correlated with both cultural and genetic factors – some folks can’t hold their liquor, or are especially susceptible to addiction; others are not.

      As a person from an alcohol-using culture, the harm done to most people is trivial, on par with other sources of mostly empty calories, and balanced by benefits – social and recreational. I.e. you might just as well ban candy, citing children who become hyper and adults who become obese as reason for doing so.

      One big difference from your impression, is that my cultural peers aren’t looking for loss of control or loss of awareness, and know how much to drink to get the benefits we want without what we’d consider to be overdose effects, though we probably wouldn’t use that phrase.

      In general, the US legal environment (no alcohol at all until you are of age, and at that point no one but you gets to limit your intake) is set up to produce young people who don’t know how to sense when they’ve had enough, and are at an age to take lots of risks. This is presumably an unintended consequence, intended to protect children – but it does young adults a significant disservice. The behaviour of some of those young adults then gives alcohol consumption a bad name, reinforcing the motivation that created the situation in the first place.

      Banning alcohol entirely might be good for those who can’t handle their liquor, one way of another. But I’d expect those whose problem was being addiction-prone (rather than having bodies poorly adapted to alcohol consumption) to simply get addicted to something else.

    • thm says:

      One striking thing is that the relation between alcohol consumption and overall mortality is non-monotonic: That’s the central illustration in this paper but there are similar results. Turns out the lowest overall mortality is at the one-drink-per-day level. It appears that moderate drinkers experience lower mortality than non-drinkers. I think though that many policymakers and wellness program brochure editors and so forth just aren’t mathematically sophisticated enough to deal with any relation that isn’t linear-no-threshold.

      This is not to say that alcohol itself necessarily has beneficial effects, although plenty have been proposed, and plenty of the data that supports purported effects have flaws. It could be that those who have enough money to buy alcohol but have the self-discipline to limit themselves to one drink a day tend to have other characteristics that promote longevity. But there really isn’t a case that drinking on the level of one drink per day is harmful.

    • Unirt says:

      One good aspect of alcohol has been, historically, that it helps with diplomacy and negotiations. People observed (citation needed, I’m afraid) that under the influence of alcohol negotiations ran more smoothly, people became emotional, bonded with each other, formed alliances, etc. As a result, in some areas drinking alcohol became compulsory when men sat down to talk about serious things, or even when just visiting a distant village, and refusing to drink was an insult to the host (what, you don’t want to be friendly with me?!).

      • gbdub says:

        Wasn’t there some ancient society that supposedly required all agreements to be made both sober and drunk, on the premise that that was the most likely assurance that the oath would be held?

        • Eric Rall says:

          Found it. Herodotus attributes that premise to the Persians:

          It is also their general practice to deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk; and then on the morrow, when they are sober, the decision to which they came the night before is put before them by the master of the house in which it was made; and if it is then approved of, they act on it; if not, they set it aside. Sometimes, however, they are sober at their first deliberation, but in this case they always reconsider the matter under the influence of wine.

          • gbdub says:

            Good old Herodotus, so it’s probably not true but the world would be more interesting if it was.

          • Statismagician says:

            Herodotus gets an unfairly bad rap re: accuracy. The gold-digging ants turn out to be a perfectly understandable mistranslation of a true story about golden marmosets, and they just dug up one of the implausibly-gigantic Egyptian grain barges.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I’ve started discussing more serious plans over coffee and drinks separately – at the very least, it forces sleeping on it.

    • erinexa says:

      I have not heard a strong honest argument for why alcohol is “good for you” or how having it in your society “makes things better.” If you read the arguments of those who campaigned for prohibition, and the (smaller group) who opposes alcohol today, the arguments are damming. Abuse of all stripes is nasty correlated with heavy drinking, and that and accidental harm against others is something I’m constantly astonished we blink at, whereas the far less damaging “secondhand smoke” is a bogeyman today. Some people have strong arguments about whether government has the right to prohibit things, but that’s a different question.

      But I say all this as a pretty heavy drinker! So why do I drink? Easy: because it feels good when life often feels bad. Religious practice or therapy can help you shut off feelings of anxiety and social pressure, those are HARD, while chemicals straight to the brain are EASY. If you can build a strong community with welcoming and forgiving nature, integrate (or run off) weirdos and those who feel alienated and depressed, and teach people supportive coping behaviors for bad thoughts, I think getting rid of alcohol would be much easier. But for everyone else, there’s nothing like two beers to get you to stop worrying about that thing you said wrong, and nothing like more beers to make you completely forget you ever said anything wrong. Until we can eliminate the insane stresses of and paranoias of existence (so, never?), many people will turn to inebrients of all sorts to escape or cushion those blows.

      • Easy: because it feels good when life often feels bad.

        It also feels good even when life itself feels good. That’s the utilitarian argument for it.

        • erinexa says:

          Well… That’s the utilitarian value for it. But as a utilitarian myself, you need to look at all the costs it inflicts and weigh them too. The argument for/against has to be the sum total. I won’t pretend I can do that accurately, and I’ll confess I’d fight like hell to prevent any bans cause I like drinking. But I’m probably just selfish, and if the omniscient util counter asked me to bet if alcohol is a net benefit… Well, how many good times do you need to outweigh millions of drunken beatings? I would guess too many.

          • gkai says:

            There is also something to say about “punish all for the misdoing of a few.”. There is a lot of this lately, and I am becoming more and more allergic to it. Even if it’s large misdoing, a little punishment, and individual misdoing is difficult to prevent individually, I am now against it.

            Somehow, it always is the case that it’s a small punishment for all, and a large benefit for the few, and individually the tradeoff seems like a no brainer, let’s do it.

            Accumulate that (alcohol, drug, cars, junk food, sex, you name it) and you are on a slow but sure way to puritan/healthist hell…

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Glad something mentioned this – alcohol IS a valid coping mechanism that works ok for many people. With potential for abuse and side effects, of course, but usually a couple of beers is much closer than a visit to the local shaman for a prescription.

        Related, I remember reading a paper some time back on gender differences – men are more likely to use alcohol for coping and move on, women are somewhat more likely to slide from coping to abuse. But I guess the main difference is how addiction-prone one is.

        And another thing I really want mentioned – alcohol in the evening will wreck havoc with your sleep quality, and this starts at drink no 1. I’ve read this many times before (you’ll fall asleep easier but sleep worse), but I’ve only really understood this when I started tracking my sleep. Pulse settles only many hours later – easily half a night with several drinks.

    • gbdub says:

      “Am I falling prey to an availability bias?”

      At the risk of sounding snarky, but I mean this honestly because you don’t seem to have mentioned it in your post, have you considered that you are falling prey to an “I was raised LDS in a strongly anti-alcohol culture” bias?

      Not only are you more likely to remember bad effects than good ones, but basically anyone in your community who is drinking is by nature anti-social.

      • Loriot says:

        For what it’s worth, I was raised protestant, am non religious, and am the only one in my family who doesn’t drink, and I also have a very negative view of alcohol. Perhaps you have to experience it firsthand to see the positives?

        The best justification I’ve heard for drinking is that it mediates social interaction by lowering inhibitions. The way I see it, if you wouldn’t do something while sober, do you really want to even do it? It’s like a reverse CEV.

        • gbdub says:

          “The way I see it, if you wouldn’t do something while sober, do you really want to even do it?”

          I hear that a lot from non drinkers, but I don’t think it actually matches most people’s lived experience. Have you never felt social anxiety? Or embarrassment over something you know you shouldn’t be embarrassed about? Never wished you had the nerve to get up and belt out some karaoke because even though it looks like a hell of a lot of fun you’re worried you’ll get made fun of? Or never even just felt stressed out and wished you could just turn off your anxiety temporarily and live it up for a night?

          Those are all the sorts of “things you wouldn’t / couldn’t do sober” that alcohol enables. Obviously there are people who do things they later regret while drunk, but there are also a lot of great times to be had by turning your social inhibitions down for a little while among people you like.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Have you never felt social anxiety? Or embarrassment over something you know you shouldn’t be embarrassed about? Never wished you had the nerve to get up and belt out some karaoke because even though it looks like a hell of a lot of fun you’re worried you’ll get made fun of? Or never even just felt stressed out and wished you could just turn off your anxiety temporarily and live it up for a night?

            Not really, no. I mean, I’ve felt anxiety and embarrassment, obviously, but not to a debilitating degree. But I’d rather be the me I’m used to being than a me without those feelings. And it feels good to decide to be unafraid. Insofar as there’s stuff that I “couldn’t” do but want to, I know it’s just a matter of strength of will, and insofar as there’s stuff I “wouldn’t” do I simply don’t want to. You can decide to sing Judas Priest at an open karaoke bar while entirely in your right mind.

            That said, I don’t proselytize against drinking; I think it’s helpful for a lot of people. I just think it’s nowhere near as necessary for most people as they seem to think.

          • gbdub says:

            I get to decide to be unafraid too, by deciding to consume a little liquid courage / social lubricant.

            I mean, good on you if you never feel anxiety. But you’re typical minding pretty blatantly.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            good on you if you never feel anxiety. But you’re typical minding pretty blatantly.

            What I said right above was

            I’ve felt anxiety and embarrassment, obviously, but not to a debilitating degree. But I’d rather be the me I’m used to being than a me without those feelings.

            I’m not sure how you interpreted one thing as the other. The point is not that I don’t feel anxiety, but that I prefer to feel that anxiety. I don’t have any wish to be free of it.

    • RobJ says:

      For me personally, I think alcohol has provided a strong net-positive to my life. I’m naturally shy and inhibited and during my peak drinking years (college) it helped me have a great social life and meet lifelong friends which I doubt would have been possible for me if alcohol had not been present. Maybe it comes off kind of sad, but I sometimes feel like “3 beers” me is the person I wish I could be all the time. Of course, there are lots of reasons why that doesn’t really work. I don’t drink a ton anymore because as I’ve aged the effects tend to be less pleasant and my sleep tends to suffer, which hurts more than it used to. But I still enjoy it in smaller doses. Plus hobbies like brewing beer and making cocktails have been pleasant additions to my life.

      For society as a whole I might guess the net harm outweighs the net benefit, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised the other way, either. I do think it is very helpful for social bonding, but for every good drunk like me, there may be more or fewer bad drunks out there getting violent or drunk driving. It does seem like the negative effects are much more measurable than the positives, though, so I wouldn’t just look at violence and drunk driving stats and think that’s the end of the story. Nobody is keeping stats on the friendships, business partnerships, marriages, negotiations, etc. that were helped along by booze.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        For Northerners alcohol tends to provide a second personality that can be assumed when you choose.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I don’t drink a ton anymore because as I’ve aged the effects tend to be less pleasant and my sleep tends to suffer, which hurts more than it used to.

        For a weekend buzz without the side-effects, you may want to look into phenibut. Horror side-effects if abused, but probably better than alcohol if used occasionally.

    • DaveK says:

      One thing I haven’t seen here, because it is something people in general have a very hard time being honest about- the use of alcohol in social contexts absolutely facillitates initial “hookups” which can lead to relationships. This is true for a great many people in the west.

  49. Purplehermann says:

    My impression of indians has always been that their culture/ upbringing is basically a rigidness/lack of flexibility that makes assimilating or adapting to new cultures successfully very, very hard.
    People generally don’t seem to do well with the whole failing at social stuff.

  50. theifin says:

    Since suicide is contagious to some degree (a suicide in one community can trigger, or increase the likelihood of, other suicides in the same community: see here) we would expect close-knit or isolated communities have a wide range of suicide rates, with some communities being unlucky in having an initial “trigger” cluster that produces a self-sustaining increase in suicide rate, but other similar communities being lucky in not having such a trigger. The smaller (and more close-knit) the community, the stronger this effect would be. This seems like a reasonable explanation for the wide variation in suicide rates for small ethnic groups in similar parts of the world.

    • DarkTigger says:

      How much of this is caused by the fact, that communities were one person has reason to kill themself, others will have too?

      • keaswaran says:

        It’s well-documented even in cases where this doesn’t seem to be a factor. Goethe’s novel about Young Werther wasn’t reacting to any objectively good reason bohemian young educated German men had for killing themselves in the early 19th century. Robin Williams wasn’t reacting to any objectively good reason that white comedy fans had for killing themselves. And yet both sparked suicide clusters.

  51. viVI_IViv says:

    While genetics or culture may matter a little, overall I am just going to end with a blanket recommendation to avoid being part of any small circumpolar ethnic group that has just discovered alcohol.

    How does this explain the suicidality of Indian diaspora?

  52. I’ve been keeping tabs on the incel community (you know, the whole violent affection starved misogynist thing), and it seems that a great number of them are indian diaspora today (self-described as “currycels” in the lingo). Obviously that’s at the extreme, but maybe this reflects indian men in the broader diaspora not doing well in the dating scenes of other countries. I recall some dating app data that I cannot locate at the moment (I’ll have a look for it) that shows indian men performing very poorly.

    • eric23 says:

      One or two of the famous incel muderers had Indian ancestry, that I can remember. Most were white though.

      I have also heard that East Asian men have it hard dating in the West (not East Asian women though) – are these men represented among incels?

      Isn’t a lot of the *recent* Indian diaspora academics and tech workers, such that you would expect many aspie-types with social issues among their kids – not an issue in previous generations of Indian emigration?

    • SEE says:

      That doesn’t have any explanatory power applied to the initial case of Guyana, where 40% of the population is Indian diaspora, 30% is African disapora, 10% is Native American, and 20% is various forms of mixed race.

  53. Lambert says:

    Is ‘Indian’ a small enough category to be meaningful?
    (Especially condidering that ‘India’ back then also included Pakistan and Bangladesh)

    South Asia is ethnically, culturally, religiously, linguistically etc. diverse enough that you can’t just go by national borders.
    And immigrant populations often came from a single or a handfull of areas.
    E.g. British South Asians tend to be Punjabi, Gurjurati (via E. Africa), Kashmiri or Sylhetti.

    Maybe the population from which the Indo-Guyanese came already had high suicide rates. Seems they tend to be from Bhojpur and Awadh.

    • SEE says:

      Um, yeah, that possibility was explicitly explored. To quote Scott’s post:

      India has a lot of weird suicide microclimates. Statewide rates range from from 38 in Sikkim (higher than any country in the world) to 0.5 in Bihar (lower than any country in the world except Barbados). Indo-Guyanese mostly come from Bihar and other low-suicide regions. While I can’t rule out that the Indo-Guyanese come from some micro-micro-climate of higher suicidality, this guy claims to have traced them back to some of their ancestral villages and found that those villages have low suicide rates.

  54. Murphy says:

    One of my old supervisors had a thing about the various versions of the alcohol dehydrogenase gene and how it’s expressed.

    Some populations can process alcohol better while it also means some people have experience alcohol as something more unpleasant so it’s not got completely straightforward relationship with alcoholism. Some people respond to being able to metabolise alcohol better by drinking more and some people respond to metabolising it worse by avoiding drinking while on the other hand being better at metabolising alcohol can be protective at the individual level for a given level of consumption.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_flush_reaction

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      From what I’ve read, the relationship ends up being pretty straightforward in practice; people with the dehydrogenase reaction tend not to become alcoholics. There’s a broader pattern where experiencing unpleasant effects from alcohol – hangovers, low tolerance, et cetera – is somewhat protective.

      There are some big exceptions, namely blood sugar and sleep disruption. People who suffer severely from those side effects of alcohol are *more* likely to become alcoholics, presumably because they create cycles where drinking more alcohol seems like the best short-term solution to the problem.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      As far as I can tell this just cleaves the world into two groups – a couple of East Asians, vs. everyone else. I don’t think it could explain the difference between eg Inuit and white Alaskans. I guess it’s proof of concept that there could be more things like that, but why haven’t we found them?

      • viVI_IViv says:

        If I understand correctly, alcohol metabolism occurs in two main steps: first ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenase, then acetaldehyde is converted to acetic acid by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.

        Ethanol itself is psychoactive and addictive, acetaldehyde is not psychoactive and causes the unpleasant hangover effects, acetic acid (vinegar) is harmless.

        Europeans (and Africans?) tend to have fairly efficient variants of both enzymes, thus most of them they can drink fairly large amounts of alcohol without suffering massive hangovers and without becoming alcoholics because they quickly convert ethanol to acetic acid.

        East Asians tend to have a hyperefficient alcohol dehydrogenase, or an inefficient acetaldehyde dehydrogenase or both, thus they tend to get massive hangovers due to the accumulation of acetaldehyde, and they are even less likely to become alcoholics than Europeans because they don’t have much ethanol in their blood for a long time and because hangovers are unpleasant experiences that provide negative reinforcement.

        Inuit, North Amerindians, Aboriginal Australians and other people without a history of cereal grain farming tend to have inefficient variants of alcohol dehydrogenase: ethanol accumulates in their blood for a longer time and they get stronger psychoactive effects, making them more likely to become alcoholics.

      • alphago says:

        I don’t think it could explain the difference between eg Inuit and white Alaskans. I guess it’s proof of concept that there could be more things like that, but why haven’t we found them?

        Here’s some genetic evidence that Intuit are more susceptible to alcoholism than europeans or east asians [1] (related to viVI_IViv’s comment)

        Compared to europeans it says (for example): “A protective effect on heavy drinking was found for the TT genotype of the ALDH1B1 arg107leu SNP…, present in 3% of pure Inuit and 37% of Danes.”

        Compared to asians it says: “Despite the Asian heritage of the Inuit, the protective Asian genotype pattern including an inactive ALDH2 enzyme was not present among the Inuit in Greenland.”

        It sounds like Siberian indigenous also lack the Asian protective variants (at least the subgroups they mention): “Other studies showed that the inactive ALDH2 allele was absent among Alaska Natives, Siberian Eskimos and Chuckchi”

        [1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25311581

  55. eric23 says:

    Siberia is a huge place. How many “tiny” ethnic groups are there in Siberia? Maybe from all those tiny ethnic groups, you could find 5 with very high suicide rates just by chance?

    • voso says:

      That was my initial thought too; for example the Koryaks seem to compose only 8000 people. How can you separate signal from noise in a population this small?

      (To be fair, they are the smallest group that he mentioned)

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        It does seem that there’s a pattern of these groups having high enough suicide rates that they affect nationwide averages, which you wouldn’t expect it it were random noise.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          Don’t know for other examples, but for Russia it’s not really possible. The total sum of population in all the Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North is around 240k (this doesn’t include Yakuts which are another 440k, but Scott doesn’t mention them). There were over 50k suicides in Russia per year at the 90s. To visibly affect the national average, those peoples would have to literally decimate themselves every year.

    • peterispaikens says:

      Siberia is a huge but very sparsely populated place. These ethnic groups constitute the *entire* native population in large land areas, i.e. if there isn’t something like an oil-well-town or diamond-mine-town that’s artificially populated some decades ago with imported labor, then that’s it.

      For example, the Chukchi were mentioned; their autonomous district https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chukotka_Autonomous_Okrug is larger than Texas, and has fifty thousand people.

      So no, these aren’t random tiny subpopulations, that’s *all* the important related subpopulations from the general quite huge area, it’s just that both the subpopulations are tiny and their total is tiny.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      There aren’t that many, I’ve tried to find ones with unusually low suicide rates, and as far as I can tell they’re all unusually high (though obviously some higher than others). Also, rates remain stably high from year to year.

  56. ManyCookies says:

    The first answer I found was this article by a social justice warrior telling us it constitutes racial “essentialism” to even ask the question. But in the process of telling us exactly what kind of claims we should avoid, she mentions someone bringing up that “80% of the reported suicides are carried out by Indo-Guyanese”. I feel like one of those classicists who has reconstructed a lost heresy through hostile quotations in Irenaeus.

    This is needlessly sneery. The suicide rate isn’t treated like a “hostile quotation”, she acknowledges it unchallenged in the first 4 paragraphs. She obviously doesn’t think race is the causation, but she does so in a pretty level-headed manner. I get that you want to consider a possible genetic factor, but “We shouldn’t jump to a racial explanation here” really doesn’t warrant the SJW label and the victory lap. Heck:

    We must resist and refuse the kneejerk response where suicide is stereotyped, culturalized, and essentialized on the bodies of Indo-Guyanese because this creates further stigma in addressing the complex issues at play.

    You’ve made a similar point, in the opposite direction, about how suicide stereotypes like “Blacks don’t commit suicide” are harmful.

    • eric23 says:

      “essentialized on the bodies of Indo-Guyanese” is exactly the kind of phrase that deserves sneering at.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Why are the SJWs so obsessed with bodies?

        • mendax says:

          If I understand them correctly, they are trying to emphasize when objectifies people. People, unlike bodies, are not objects,

          So a response that is objectifying of the Indo-Guyanese doesn’t address them as people but as bodies.

          Likewise, a that features people in a objectified capacity would be described by SJWs as exploiting bodies.

          • Cliff says:

            In social philosophy, objectification is the act of treating a person, or sometimes an animal,[1] as an object or a thing.

            Interestingly, all people are animals, objects and things by definition.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            If I understand them correctly, they are trying to emphasize when objectifies people. People, unlike bodies, are not objects,

            But then why do they do it themselves? Seriously, they are the only ones who consistently refer to people as “bodies”.

          • Matt M says:

            But then why do they do it themselves? Seriously, they are the only ones who consistently refer to people as “bodies”.

            I always thought the idea was something to the effect of “Ultimately we’re all human, race doesn’t really exist, etc. etc…. BUT, to the extent that we still want to talk about race in the context of outgroup being racist against ingroup, we can distinguish between the color of “bodies” while not implying that racial characteristics or commonalities actually exist.”

            Like, it’s for people who don’t want to admit that “black people” and “white people” are different (because of the various implications this might have once this issue is conceded), but do still want to have a way to effectively communicate that one of those groups is doing a bad thing to the other group.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Cliff, Objectification talk originates with Kant, and its subsequent evolution follows Kant in often forgetting to include the “mere” in front of “object” or “thing”. It is fair enough to criticize the tradition when with the added “mere” what they are saying is false or unsupportable or silly (which is, to be sure, the case more frequently than it should be; they are sloppy). But if adding the “mere” would not make their statement false or unsupportable or silly, you are merely scoring cheap debating points by indicating that as given, without the “mere” and excessively literally interpreting it as intending to be without the “mere”, it is false or unsupportable or silly.

        • keaswaran says:

          Because many social issues are made manifest by the way people react to our bodies, and forgetting about differences in bodies sometimes hides these effects.

        • bassicallyboss says:

          I always assumed it was mostly for rhetorical effect. If you assume people are basically all the same deep down (which they oftendo, what with blank-slatism and all that), then everyone is the same kind of person, just shaped by their experiences and treatment, which vary based on their appearance, ie, body.

          Saying “bodies” rather than “people” highlights the fact that attributing something to race is assuming something based on someone’s bodily characteristics (which is bad) rather than their mind or soul or what have you.

          You could just as easily say “appearance”, but that’s much less evocative phrasing. “Appearance” also suggests something that can be changed, whereas “body” suggests something immutable.

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        There are situations where it’s necessary to do so, but I’m not sure this is one of them. Is the person being sneered at here influential, or is this just a “boo outgroup” link (not that Scott is obligated to follow the subreddit rules)?

    • Act_II says:

      Yes, that comment was sadly devoid of the intellectual honesty I’ve come to expect from Scott. I’m pretty sure he didn’t actually read the article.

    • thesilverbail says:

      +1.

      For further context, the article goes on to say that the main concern the author has about dwelling on the racial factor is her worry that “suicide might come to be viewed as an issue that is inherent to the Indo-Guyanese experience, that “this is just something Indians do” or that “this is just how Indian culture stay”. Also she says very clearly : “My response was not intended to dismiss these numbers or the examination of race; nor was I, as some have said, “defending my race”.

    • Salem says:

      Oh come on. Did you read the post?

      Al Jazeera host: Are any parts of the Guyanese population more likely to commit suicide than others?
      Dr Persaud: No, and it’s racist to ask the question.
      Other guest: You’re lying. Indo-Guyanese commit 80% of all suicides, the rate is far higher than other groups.
      Dr Persaud: That’s true, and I never denied it. In fact, it’s crucial to ask these questions.

      Dr Persaud (now blogging): I’m worried some people may sense a slight inconsistency in these responses. If I’d known I was going to be driven out of my bailey, I would have safely stayed in my motte all along, and prefaced my “no” with a lengthy word salad about intersectionality that would render it meaningless. But I’d have doubled down on calling any explanations or people I don’t like racist. My research deliberately ignores any possibility of genetic or cultural reasons for suicide, so you know I’m honest when I say they don’t matter.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Maybe my reasons for being annoyed don’t come out in this essay, where I spend one paragraph setting up the problem, then skip to the ethnic basis in the next paragraph. The actual experience was

      1. Finding that Guyana inexplicably had the world’s highest suicide rate
      2 Spending maybe half an hour trying to find any useful information on why
      3. No luck, all the articles are things like “it probably has lots of domestic violence”, with no statistics comparing domestic violence rates to anywhere else, and no explanation of why it would have more domestic violence than anywhere else.
      4. Deciding to see if there was an ethnic basis, even more irritating fruitless searching.
      5. Finally stumbling across that link, which casually mentions 80% of the suicides are in Indo-Guyanese but then says we shouldn’t talk about it.
      6. Then I Google “Indian diaspora” and find out that Indian diasporites have very high suicide rates everywhere they go, equally high suicide rates in Guyana’s neighbor Suriname, etc, actually everything makes perfect sense.

      Yes, I agree that it’s important not to have stereotypes like “blacks don’t commit suicide”, but at this point we’re actually suppressing information so successfully that it makes it really hard to figure out important facts like why one country has ten times the suicide rate of its neighbors. It’s possible that all relevant policy-makers already know this and this isn’t hindering any important anti-suicide policy in Guyana, but are we sure all policy-makers feel comfortable talking about it among themselves? And even if they do, are we really happy with a situation where policy-makers are able to understand the world but nobody else is?

      It’s unfair to blame the author of the article for this situation, since she didn’t personally decide that nobody else would spread the information at all, but I think it’s fair to compare my experience to someone hunting for information on heresies in Irenaeus.

      And I don’t want to consider a possible genetic factor! I said that Indians in India don’t have this problem, and then went on to propose two purely cultural explanations. Hiding information isn’t just bad for genetic explanations, it’s bad for getting the right cultural explanation if you can’t even know what culture is involved.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Hiding information isn’t just bad for genetic explanations, it’s bad for getting the right cultural explanation if you can’t even know what culture is involved.

        But the SJWs don’t want to suppress just genetic explanations, they also want to suppress any cultural explanation that isn’t “white men did it”. And since its difficult to spin the Indo-Guyanese as oppressed by their own cultural norms or by the Afro-Guyanese and the Amerindians and still somehow make it white men’s fault, the information must be suppressed. Better to paint all “brown bodies” as interchangeable generalized Mexicans who suffer because Orange Man closed the border. (And for extra points they can also cram the Muslims into the same category).

      • ManyCookies says:

        Fair enough, thanks for the response. I still don’t think she deserves a SJW label, though maybe I take SJW as more inherently prerogative than you do.

        Yes, I agree that it’s important not to have stereotypes like “blacks don’t commit suicide”, but at this point we’re actually suppressing information so successfully that it makes it really hard to figure out important facts like why one country has ten times the suicide rate of its neighbors.

        Fair. I mostly brought up that quote as “Hey she’s being reasonable here”.

        And I don’t want to consider a possible genetic factor! I said that Indians in India don’t have this problem, and then went on to propose two purely cultural explanations. Hiding information isn’t just bad for genetic explanations, it’s bad for getting the right cultural explanation if you can’t even know what culture is involved.

        That’s fair for the broader situation, although the specific article does talk about cultural factors (often patriarchy related); I don’t think would consider it “race essentialism” just to point out cultural differences if they’re not used to excessively stereotype.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        And I don’t want to consider a possible genetic factor! I said that Indians in India don’t have this problem, and then went on to propose two purely cultural explanations. Hiding information isn’t just bad for genetic explanations, it’s bad for getting the right cultural explanation if you can’t even know what culture is involved.

        Scott, what you need to realize is that SJWs hate cultural explanations almost as much as they hate genetic explanations. From “Achievement Gap Politics”:

        In the public domain, you’ll hear two contrasting views about the achievement gap, its cause and solution. The first is the progressive view, the one associated with “progressive education,” which holds that social injustice, institutionalized racism, white prejudice, and other societal ills cause the achievement gap. Progressives want to fix the achievement gap by moving underachieving students closer to high-achieving students whenever possible, arguing that tracking and sorting are evils that create underachieving “ghettos” that perpetuate, or even cause, the gap. In schools with a majority minority population of underachievers (i.e., inner city urban schools or charter schools specifically created for these populations), progressives push for community involvement, encouraging teachers to support their students in every aspect of life and seek to make the curriculum “relevant.”

        The second view, what I’ll call the conservative view of the achievement gap, also focuses on student values. But instead of encouraging teachers to respect the student’s culture, conservatives say that parents and teachers of low-performing students are the cause of the gap, by failing to give the students the correct cultural values. Hard work, family values, commitment to the importance of education, and “no excuses,” to quote the Thernstroms, who are major proponents of the conservative view, will close the achievement gap. The conservatives believe that higher standards are the order of the day, and that everyone can achieve if they just work hard. Conservatives hold ed schools in extremely low esteem, and feel that the progressive push to “understand” students and teach simplified (as they see it) curriculum contributes to the problem. The conservative view is held by most politicians of any ideology. Both NCLB and Race to the Top are based on this viewpoint—which comes along with a hefty dose of blame for the teachers, the ed schools that produce them, and the unions that represent them.

        And so, the Voldemort View: academic achievement is primarily explained by cognitive ability, and therefore the achievement gap is also most likely caused in large part by differences in cognitive ability. People with this view don’t promote solutions, primarily because in order to even start thinking about solutions one has to be able to discuss the possible cause and mentioning this cause is politically unacceptable. People who think it likely that the achievement gap is primarily cognitive don’t usually risk mentioning it in public because it’s a career destroyer. Please do not infer any other opinions about those with a Voldemort View, because I promise you, most of what you’re likely to assume is simply wrong.

        You might be wondering whether I’m a conservative or a Voldemort. Here’s the really funny part—it doesn’t matter. I would have run into trouble at ed school regardless. The real problem wasn’t conservative vs. Voldemort—although I sense most ed schools would, if forced, say they preferred a conservative. The real problem is that elite ed schools don’t want either type to darken their doors.

        The only explanations that SJWs are interested in are oppression narratives that blame white males, because these can be used as an excuse to gain money, status, and power in the name of helping oppressed people.

  57. Tatu Ahponen says:

    “I’m actually a little confused what happened here.”

    It’s not really very confusing at all when you live in Finland. Our suicide rates were, indeed, sky-high when I was a child; this was considered a national issue, not only because of all the actual suicides but because foreign medias were writing about it; Finns are very tuned into the whole idea of “national reputation”, and when national reputation becomes “a bunch of gloomy morose drunks hanging themselves in the dark”, well, something needs to be done about it. Suicide became an actual focus of public policy, there were widespread campaigns for suicide awareness and so on, and when a welfare state starts doing public policy in this way, it has a way of actually working; the rates started dropping and have mostly continued to do so. (Jn a way it’s possible the nation was actually shamed into not committing suicides.)

    • Alkatyn says:

      What were the policy changes?

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Nationalization of hard alcohol into Alko stores, high taxes on the stuff, and designating anything over 5.4% alcohol “hard” and thus highly taxes, nationalized, and harder to access.

        Also grocery story beer can’t be sold cold.

        • kaneliomena says:

          The Alko monopoly dates back to 1932, a post-prohibition compromise rather than a suicide awareness measure. Suicide rates in Finland peaked in 1990, while alcohol consumption continued to grow until 2008. The post-1990 suicide rate decrease coincided with a (largely cultural) shift away from hard liquor toward beers. Grocery store beer can be sold cold (but can’t be sold, at any temperature, after 9 PM).

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m still surprised because studies tend to find mental health care only has modest effects on suicide even when we’re studying the subset of people who are getting good mental health care. I would be shocked if it could make a huge difference on the national level. But if not better mental health care, what policies produced the change?

      • kaneliomena says:

        A Finnish depression researcher names better availability of medication as another likely contributing factor:

        Professor [of psychiatry] Erkki Isometsä says there is no one reason that could be pinpointed for Finland’s improving suicide statistics, but the trend does correlate with a national suicide prevention campaign that was launched when things were at their worst.

        “It started with a research phase that mapped out all of the suicides in Finland in the late 1980s. This increased the suicide cognizance of the psychiatric treatment system considerably, he says.

        He says the [poor] state of treatment for depression during the late eighties was also a contributing factor. As the means for treating people improved in the nineties, drugs to help with the disease also become more readily available and easier to use.

        “The new medications had fewer side effects than the older options, so general practitioners weren’t so averse to prescribing them,” he says.

  58. Blueberry pie says:

    Couldn’t part of the results be explained by the simple fact that the suicide rate is more variable when you measure it in small groups than in large groups? E.g. Guyana ~800 K citizens, going from 20 to 30 suicides per 100 K means going from 160 to 240 suicides – this can plausibly be caused by a large factory closure, a crazy cult or simply few coroners changing reporting behavior. For Nuuk (pop. 18K) the same change means going from 4 to 6 suicides a year – such change can be plausibly sustained over multiple years just due to randomness. OTOH for the US to see such a shift you need around 35 000 additional suicides – hard to get unless there is a strong country-wide trend or a coordinated effort to change reporting nationwide.

    This theory has another prediction that can be tested: if increased variability due to group size is (partially) to blame, you would also observe the lowest suicide rates in the whole world in other small population groups.

    I don’t think this is likely to be the whole story, but it could make the differences look much less stark.

    • louis.word says:

      ^This is a very good comment.

      See, for example, here:

      https://bayescourse.updog.co/13_Priors_are_useful_cancer_example.html

      Note in these maps, that the counties with both the lowest and highest rates of kidney cancer tend to be the counties with smaller populations…

      • Doktor Relling says:

        Agreed that this is a very good comment. The explanation for high suicide rates in very small ethnic groups could be due to “the law of small numbers”.

        If that is the case, small ethnic groups should be overrepresented also with regard to lower-than-average suicide rates. This could be worth investigating.

        I could not make your link work concerning kidney cancer, but here is a similar link:
        https://dataremixed.com/2015/01/avoiding-data-pitfalls-part-2/

        …and here is a link to US suicide rates by county:
        https://www.governing.com/gov-data/health/county-suicide-death-rates-map.html

        …simply moving the cursor around, there is certainly more to county-specific suicide rates than high-low population density (see Navajo and Apache county in Arizona for example: quite large populations, but also well above average suicide rates). However, if one were to plot these figures in a graph, there is perhaps a statistically significant tendency that small counties are overrpresented at least among higher-than-average suicide counties. I do not have access to the data file, but perhaps someone has investigated this?

    • Statismagician says:

      Quite right. We really shouldn’t use the per-100k rates at less than the continental scale, and especially proportional comparisons get really weird when we do.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The rates stay the same every year.

      • Blueberry pie says:

        First, I forgot to say in the first comment that I find the post interesting and well researched, thank you for all the effort – I don’t want to shoot it down, just venting some stuff that goes around in my head. Back to content.

        The trend being consistent definitely makes the explanation by increased variability in small numbers less convincing. But it just moves the scale a little bit – smaller community is still more likely to get elevated rates over multiple years by chance/non systematic factors than a big community.

        I still believe a good test would be to try to find places with lowest suicide rates. The extent to which small communities would be overrepresented there as well should give us some idea how much can we explain just from the small numbers. But I understand this is a lot of work so I don’t expect anyone to actually do it.

        Also if the rates for places like Nuuk really stay the same every year, that would make me suspicious about the data collection – there should be substantial year-to-year variability (+/- 5 per 100 K at the very least). But I guess you were just simplifying here and speaking about a consistent trend.

        Thanks again for so many high quality posts!

  59. chrisare says:

    Interesting but I’m not seeing the connection between section I and sections II & III. The Indians in Guyana are not part of “a small circumpolar ethnic group that has just discovered alcohol” are they?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The only connection is that they’re both “suicide hotspots of the world”, which is what I said I was going to talk about.

  60. SEE says:

    But then how come that didn’t happen to eg indentured Englishmen in Virginia?

    Not a good counter-example. Neither slavery nor indentured servitude in the US was ever as harsh (as measured by, for example, the death rate) as the Indian indenture system in the Caribbean in the 19th Century after the British pretended they abolished slavery.

    However, slavery in Guyana wasn’t any less harsh than the Indian indenture system, so the Afro-Guyanese make a quite good counter-example.

    • benf says:

      Also, African Americans have much LOWER suicide rates despite terrible historical circumstances and worse performance on basically every social indicator you care to name.

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        Interestingly, African Americans also don’t drink much.

        • Statismagician says:

          This could be the result of selection pressures – if there is in fact some significant genetic component to suicidality, even mediated through alcoholism (which does have a significant genetic component) those who had it in, say, 1850 might plausibly not have as many descendants currently living.

  61. User_Riottt says:

    The Native Americans I know in the lower 48 seam so have a lot of spiritualism around nature. The North Pole has been seeing the first and strongest effects of climate change. I’ve heard reports that the knowledge passed down along the ages about what and where to hunt has become practically irrelevant. I’d imagine the totality of knowing that an ancient way of life dies with you and there is nothing you can do about it probably isn’t a fun thought. Hell, I don’t have any of that baggage and regularly wish I was dead rather than have to deal with watching capitalism destroy the planet.

    • Adrian says:

      Hell, I don’t have any of that baggage and regularly wish I was dead rather than have to deal with watching capitalism destroy the planet.

      I’m sorry you feel that way, and I don’t want to “ackchyually” you, but it’s so tiring to see this myth repeated again and again on the Internet, and now even on SSC.
      It’s not capitalism that’s destroying the planet. The USSR or the German Democratic Republic were decidedly not capitalistic, and they didn’t give a shit about the environment. Human greed and shortsightedness are destroying the planet, neither of which are in any way specific to capitalism or any other social or economic system. Hell, even the supposedly “in tune with nature” hunter-gatherers were only in tune with nature as long as nature was actively killing them. The Māori, for example, quickly drove the Moa to extinction. It had few natural predators and was an easy prey for the newly arrived humans, who routinely ate just the best pieces and threw the rest to the dogs.

      • benf says:

        Thanks for grabbing onto this. Capitalism is just one way of distributing incentives for and rewards from productive activity. It’s that underlying productive activity (or, more precisely, the specific MEANS of productive activity) that are destroying the planet.

        Now some environmentalists do want to smash productive activity and turn humanity into scattered enclaves of subsistence farmers but, believe it or not, that doesn’t actually require ending capitalism. You could have capitalism and subsistence standards of living, no problem.

        We don’t necessarily need the means of production to change hands, we need to change the means of production themselves. Luckily, as Marx pointed out, capitalism turns out to do this on its own already! We just need to give it a little shove in the right direction and the process is self-sustaining.

      • hypnogoge says:

        I think there is some basis to criticise capitalism specifically, or at least the way that capitalism interacts with government. Countries where corporations have a lot of influence over the government make intergovernmental cooperation much more difficult. The incentive structures are really poorly optimised for ‘tragedy of the commons’ type situations like climate change. Like, you have all these corporations acting to maximize profits, and leaning on their respective governments to prevent regulation that would interfere with their profits. That’s where GOP climate denialism comes from and that’s been a huge obstacle to reducing global emissions.

        I’m not sure I can really comment on the whole Soviet bloc environmentalism thing, but you can’t really ignore the influence of the Cold War, and the lack of democracy, neither of which are inherent properties of non-capitalist economic systems.

        • Cliff says:

          Communist China and socialist India are the worst polluters, right? Capitalist US and EU are much better.

        • Adrian says:

          I think there is some basis to criticise capitalism specifically, or at least the way that capitalism interacts with government. Countries where corporations have a lot of influence over the government make intergovernmental cooperation much more difficult.

          You’re conflating capitalism with government corruption. Not every government of a capitalist nation is as corrupt as the US government; in fact, the US has probably one of the most, if not even the most corrupt government of all western capitalist democracies.

          I’m not sure I can really comment on the whole Soviet bloc environmentalism thing, but you can’t really ignore the influence of the Cold War, and the lack of democracy, neither of which are inherent properties of non-capitalist economic systems.

          What has the Cold War to do with this? You can always find a reason for “now’s a bad time to start caring about the environment”. Besides, the environmental movement in the West began right in the middle of the Cold War!

          Regarding democracy: There’s no non-capitalist nation on Earth with a democratic system worthy of that label. Funny how that worked out…

          Furthermore, as gbdub mentioned below, wealth seems to be a necessary precondition for a societal desire for environmental protection and animal welfare. And there is no economic system that has created more wealth than capitalism. Again, funny how that worked out.

          • k987 says:

            Clicked “Report” accidentally, sorry about that.

            Regarding democracy: There’s no non-capitalist nation on Earth with a democratic system worthy of that label. Funny how that worked out…

            I’d argue that relying solely on empiric evidence is not a very strong argument for that very common claim. All Communist regimes so far have been either set up by Soviet Russia or modeled themselves on Leninism (or Maoism, which is descended from it). There are other strains of socialism (not counting the watered-down “regulate capitalism and tax the rich slightly more” ones) that have never been implemented.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            In addition to the point made by k987, all socialist governments I can think of fall into one of four categories:

            1) Started as a communist revolutionary movement overthrowing an autocracy. The track record for such revolutionary movements isn’t good even when they’re non-communist; the revolutionaries have a high likelihood of becoming the new autocrats.

            2) Started as a communist revolutionary movement overthrowing colonial domination by foreigners. Same issue as (1). Attempts to found a democracy in a society where any existing popular/democratic institutions have been uprooted by dictators or colonial overlords… don’t have a high success rate.

            And then there’s…

            3) Socialist political parties that win elections and get overthrown by a right-wing junta (think Argentina or Iran). While sometimes people make excuses for the junta, it’s hard to argue that the breakdown in democracy is inherently primarily attributable to socialism in cases like this.

            And there ARE, occasionally…

            4) Democratically elected socialists who turn into strongmen. About the only unambiguous case I can think of involving this is Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro; there may be others I just don’t remember. But, again, I don’t think socialism is the ‘active ingredient’ in this process.

            Similar breakdowns in democracy, only with a non-socialist strongman, have happened many times, and the phenomenon of democracy turning into oligarchy or tyranny is so old the ancient Greeks would talk about it using the same exact words.

            Case (4) isn’t encouraging, but cases (1) and (2) are at most barely relevant given the clustering caused by the way the Bolsheviks exported their specific revolutionary model after 1917.

          • Adrian says:

            I’d argue that relying solely on empiric evidence is not a very strong argument for that very common claim.

            Non-empiric reasoning, however, is completely worthless for judging a socio-economic system. There are too many known unknowns and unknown unknowns, too many factors, variables, and dynamic relationships, too many internal and external actors, which would make any kind of analytical model – and predictions derived from it – not just imprecise, but pure fiction.

            There are other strains of socialism (not counting the watered-down “regulate capitalism and tax the rich slightly more” ones) that have never been implemented.

            There are an infinite number of possible economic systems, nearly all of which have never been tried before, but many of which have an advantage that socialism doesn’t have: not being based on an idea which in its incarnations has always failed so far. If I had to choose, I’d try those first.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            I think somewhere like Czechoslovakia doesn’t quite count as Case 2, but as a fifth case of “communism imposed from outside by an external non-democratic communist state”. Or maybe it’s Case 4?

            Pre-WW2 Czechoslovakia was reasonably democratic if somewhat dysfunctional. A single free election was held in 1946, resulting in the Communists being the largest party in Parliament but not the majority, and a Communist becoming PM. The Communists then staged a Soviet-backed coup in 1948 before the next scheduled election, which they considered they would probably lose.

      • Act_II says:

        I agree, sadly. In theory capitalism makes it harder to respond to climate change, since people are going to follow their financial incentives and those aren’t necessarily aligned with moral or environmental goals. But as you said, in practice, even when nations can have direct control of their emissions, they often choose not to exercise that control responsibly.

        • gbdub says:

          Until quite recently, and mostly in capitalist countries, environmentalism has been an unaffordable luxury.

          Profit might be a strong motive to rape and pillage the earth… but starvation is an even stronger one.

          Rich capitalist countries seem to be getting more technologically advanced and have declining birth rates – so they are at least more likely to be moving in the direction of lower-than-current impact.

    • Hell, I don’t have any of that baggage and regularly wish I was dead rather than have to deal with watching capitalism destroy the planet.

      The planet will still be here, it will just be a couple degrees warmer and missing a small number of species which you probably never would have come in contact with anyway. Have you considered the possibility that this reaction is not particularly rational?

      • Act_II says:

        This is a head-in-the-sand response to climate change. There are going to be human deaths from climate change; in fact, there probably already are. Nobody will be unaffected except possibly the very wealthy. Even areas that are insulated from the direct effects will be flooded with climate refugees. Fear and grief are normal responses to understanding these realities.

        • Nobody will be unaffected except possibly the very wealthy. Even areas that are insulated from the direct effects will be flooded with climate refugees.

          I’ve never seen a convincing argument for this scenario. It does not follow naturally from a change in temperature.

          • Act_II says:

            Climate change will make more areas uninhabitable. Do you think people who live in areas that will be underwater are just going to sit there while the waves cover them? No, those who are able to move will move. In areas that experience more extreme weather events like droughts, famines, and fires, some people will manage to stay but most will have to move or die.

            Weather and climate are very complicated. Just because you don’t understand the connection between temperature and catastrophic weather events doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

          • Do you think people who live in areas that will be underwater are just going to sit there while the waves cover them? No, those who are able to move will move.

            It will cover a very tiny proportion of the world’s land area. There is plenty of land for them to move to in their own countries,(except for maybe a few pacific island states with ~1,000 people, far too low to create mass refugee flows) and the most heavily populated areas will just block off the ocean like the Dutch do.

            In areas that experience more extreme weather events like droughts, famines, and fires, some people will manage to stay but most will have to move or die.

            Droughts may become more common, but carbon fertilization and the opening up of more land in the North will increase the food supply, which may offset this. Since the food supply is globalized, there’s no reason to expect any more mass death due to famine than would otherwise be the case. Drought or natural disaster is not enough to create famines in the modern environment. To do that you need war and political dysfunction.

            No area today is uninhabited because of the risk of fire. They keep putting new developments in the middle of fire country in California and Arizona, which should tell a rational person that there is no reason to expect these areas to depopulate because of the increased threat. In contrast, there are plenty of areas which are uninhabited because it’s too cold.

            Just because you don’t understand the connection between temperature and catastrophic weather events doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

            Just because you can picture one existing doesn’t mean it actually exists or that it goes in the direction you hypothesize.

          • Act_II says:

            Coasts are disproportionately populated, so the amount of land area is irrelevant. Millions will be displaced. That’s not a number I pulled from my ass, it’s based on an actual estimate by climate scientists that 187 million could be displaced by sea level rise alone by 2100. It’s certainly possible that some places will undertake land reclamation projects, but land reclamation is difficult and expensive. I wouldn’t expect to see it in poor countries, nor would I expect to see it in places where hurricanes are likely to hit and destroy any progress. I also never suggested that refugees would have to move internationally — it’s going to be disruptive enough to have large numbers of people move inland.

            Since the food supply is globalized, there’s no reason to expect any more mass death due to famine than would otherwise be the case. Drought or natural disaster is not enough to create famines in the modern environment. To do that you need war and political dysfunction.

            This is just nonsense. Seriously, just browse the wiki article on the projected and observed effects of climate change on access to food. Even if total food productivity increases — which is the opposite of what we’ve seen so far — there will be regional shortages, because it turns out that saying “the food supply is globalized” doesn’t magically mean all areas have equal or sufficient access to food. This will be especially pronounced in developing countries in the global south, because lower latitudes will suffer the worst hits to food production. You might recognize this region as one rife with “war and political dysfunction.” Funny how that works.

            They keep putting new developments in the middle of fire country in California and Arizona, which should tell a rational person that there is no reason to expect these areas to depopulate because of the increased threat.

            This doesn’t follow, but it also isn’t my point. Fires destroy homes and kill or displace people. They are getting worse and will continue to get worse as fire-prone regions get hotter and drier. This will cause more homes to be destroyed, meaning more refugees and more casualties.

          • Coasts are disproportionately populated, so the amount of land area is irrelevant. Millions will be displaced.

            They’ll move a few blocks up the street. It happens all the time. There won’t be any long-term impoverishment due to this since such a small amount of land is being lost.

            Even if total food productivity increases — which is the opposite of what we’ve seen so far

            Crop yields have been increasing rapidly, everywhere. I think you mean they would have increased even more if not for climate change. I’m quite skeptical. Your link is mostly a series of predictions, not observations. Such as:

            Hennessy et al.. (2007:509)[89] assessed the literature for Australia and New Zealand. They concluded that without further adaptation to climate change, projected impacts would likely be substantial: By 2030, production from agriculture and forestry was projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand;

            We’re halfway there already…

            You then get a bunch of examples of localized effects where the hits are counted and the misses ignored. If rainfall is projected to decrease, you get a worse risk of drought. And if rainfall is expected to increase? Well, then they say it’s bad because there will be more pests.

            This doesn’t follow, but it also isn’t my point. Fires destroy homes and kill or displace people. They are getting worse and will continue to get worse as fire-prone regions get hotter and drier. This will cause more homes to be destroyed, meaning more refugees and more casualties.

            And blizzards kill people too. The fundamental disagreement here is that I refuse to count the hits and ignore the misses.

          • Act_II says:

            This is exactly what I mean by head-in-the-sand. They can’t move a few blocks up the street if the whole city is flooding. And it doesn’t happen all the time; warming to this degree has never happened before.

            You need to take a closer look at that link. I linked the whole page precisely because I didn’t want to cherry-pick one or two studies when there are tons of them. Yes, one impact is that crop yields are likely increasing less than they would without climate change, and furthermore they’re predicted to decrease in the latter half of the century. You also ignored the point that even if this doesn’t come to pass, the shift in food production will come with casualties.

            With regard to “counting the hits and ignoring the misses,” you are revealing a lack of understanding of climate and climate change. Yes, rainfall can decrease in some places, increase in others, and be bad for both. This is because different places have different ecosystems which are adapted to their local climate. When the climate changes, regardless of the type of change, the ecosystem is disrupted. This is usually bad for things in the ecosystem, including humans. You’ve mistaken your lack of nuanced understanding for a flaw on the part of scientists.

            Blizzards do indeed kill people. Unfortunately, climate change may also lead to worse blizzards. Climate is complicated.

          • This is exactly what I mean by head-in-the-sand. They can’t move a few blocks up the street if the whole city is flooding.

            Most coastal cities will not flood, or else there’d be a lot more than 157 million people displaced. I meant people move around all the time. They don’t need to go all the way to the developed world, there’s plenty of land right next door to them they could move to. And in cities where the whole city would otherwise flood, they’d just block off the sea. The world in 2100 will be wealthier and doing it isn’t rocket science. For all the Left’s antiracism, many of you don’t seem to have a very high opinion of the people of the global South, not imagining they’ll do anything other than run away to live in refugee camps.

            Yes, rainfall can decrease in some places, increase in others, and be bad for both. This is because different places have different ecosystems which are adapted to their local climate. When the climate changes, regardless of the type of change, the ecosystem is disrupted. This is usually bad for things in the ecosystem, including humans. You’ve mistaken your lack of nuanced understanding for a flaw on the part of scientists.

            The person with a lack of nuanced understanding is the one trying to analogize natural ecosystems to those created by humans and assert that the latter are as fragile as the former. Human farmers can easily adapt to changing patterns of rainfall. They can easily change what crops they plant, they can change how much fertilizer they use. As the world develops and agriculture becomes more scientific in the developing world, the process of adaption becomes easier and easier. And this isn’t change happening over the course of the year. It’s over the course of decades.

            Blizzards do indeed kill people. Unfortunately, climate change may also lead to worse blizzards. Climate is complicated.

            Considering the track record so far when they say things will happen, I’m not too concerned about what they say may happen. Everyone knows that if human activity were making the world colder, the same people who are saying global warming was the end of the world would be saying that global cooling was the end of the world. Would it occur to anyone to assert that the world getting colder would make blizzards less likely? Maybe you think so, I don’t. [Edit: perhaps whatever company was making the globe-cooling pollutant would say so. I don’t expect any of the environmental activists to do so.]

          • Act_II says:

            I’m going to reply to the last point first because it’s representative of the same mistake you keep making.

            Would it occur to anyone to assert that the world getting colder would make blizzards less likely?

            No, probably not. Global cooling would almost certainly cause its own set of problems, and among those problems could easily be increased likelihood of blizzards. Because it’s just not as simple as temperature up = blizzards up, temperature down = blizzards down. There are thousands of intermediate variables in there that affect the output. Increasing global average temperature and decreasing global average temperature would have a different causal chain, but many of the links along the way could easily be the same.
            You’ve demonstrated a pretty poor understanding of webs of cause and effect. This is true of the rainfall thing, the flooding thing, and the refugee thing. If you refuse to think more than one step ahead in the chain and close your eyes to how these things interact with each other, then of course climate change isn’t scary. But reality and science aren’t that reductionist. I know it’s fun to act the smug denialist crank, but people whose job it is to think about this stuff basically universally disagree with you. Of course they can be wrong, but you’re making a pretty weak case for that.

          • Because it’s just not as simple as temperature up = blizzards up, temperature down = blizzards down.

            Here’s what your link says:

            “You have to remember that there are two factors that result in heavy snow: It has to be cold enough to snow, and the atmosphere has to be moist,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University.

            Why does climate change lead to more moisture?

            “The maximum amount of water vapor that can be present increases with increasing temperatures. That’s just a consequence of the laws of physics,” Broccoli said.

            You have not made an argument based on tracking “thousands of intermediate variables in there that affect the output.” You just assert without evidence that they will interact to give you the result you claim. This is true of the rainfall thing, the flooding thing, and the refugee thing. “These all interact in a many-step process to give me X!” How do they give you X? You need to describe the process. Assertions which can be made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

            I know it’s fun to act the smug denialist crank, but people whose job it is to think about this stuff basically universally disagree with you.

            You’re (presumably) citing the fact that scientists agree on the temperature increase and then mapping it onto an agreement with your claim that “even areas that are insulated from the direct effects will be flooded with climate refugees.” These are claims are not the same and you have not made much of an argument that one should logically flow from the other.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            I would guess that the bumper crops of recent years are in substantial part due to the increased CO2 in the atmosphere. See https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth
            Of course that does not negate the negative consequences of global warming, but it is worth noting that ‘climate change’ is just that – it may be for better or worse.

      • Telomerase says:

        Higher CO2 levels make crops grow faster and use less water. And they allow green plants to survive… if CO2 falls below 0.008%, then all the green plants die. We came close in the last Ice Age.

        If the planet warms up ENOUGH (we’re nowhere near), say 6 degrees C… then Africa turns green again, as it always has cyclically. (BTW, look at the Qattara Depression pipeline project… half a billion dollars, and a lot of Libya and Egypt turn green).

        Warming is inconvenient because we build our cities on the ocean. But higher CO2 is good for Third World farmers, good for delaying the Final Ice Age, and good for the biosphere. (To a point, of course… we do need to switch to nuclear before Peak Oxygen hits 😉

  62. AC Harper says:

    Plus there’s some anecdotal evidence of social groups lowering the aversion to suicide. Young people in a certain town, workers in a particular company, all sharing a social network of a kind pick up and transmit behaviours over their social network.

    In developed multicultural societies people belong to many different social networks but I wonder if there are fewer social networks available in any “small circumpolar ethnic group that has just discovered alcohol” lessening the protective effect of anti-suicidal social networks? A perfect storm perhaps?

    • Act_II says:

      I think this is basically right. Take the example of Inuits in Nuuk vs Inuits in rural areas; both are part of the same ethnic group, both would have the same physical reaction to alcohol, both would experience extreme disruption of traditional institutions, but the people living in the city would be much more able to form new social bonds and develop a more Western-style support network. Thus we see that the suicide rates in Nuuk are much lower than elsewhere.

  63. atreic says:

    One of the things that strongly affects suicide rates is how socially acceptable it is to write ‘suicide’ as the cause of death. If you have someone run over by a train, the verdict could be suicide, or it could be death by misadventure, or even accident (what a shame the nice young man was crossing at that level crossing in the middle of nowhere and didn’t hear the train coming, could have happened to anyone, what a sad accident. Similarly people who shoot themselves, etc, etc.) My understanding is that particularly in the past where there was a lot of stigma around mental health issues, anything except the most clear cut suicides would often be put in another category as a kindness to the family.

    The English suicide statistics work quite hard to avoid this, and don’t just count suicides, they count ‘all deaths from intentional self-harm for persons aged 10 and over, and deaths caused by injury or poisoning where the intent was undetermined for those aged 15 and over’. [They’re currently wondering whether changes in the standard of proof for death by suicide will inflate their suicide figures.] I am not sure if other countries worry about this as much as they do.

    It does make me wonder if there could be some racial bias driving the suicide statistics – nice young white man just about to go to college drinks a lot and shoots himself, tragic accident, person with different coloured skin who doesn’t speak the same language as the coroner shoots himself, well, everyone knows suicide rates are high in that group. Although I think the points about darkness, alcohol, cultural acceptance etc etc in your post are also probably factors.

    • gkai says:

      Indeed. Especially in the case where there is genuine doubt, or it’s practically impossible to tell.
      For example, drivers having a fatal accident will always be filled under accidental death, with alcohol/drug as the cause is they were under influence. How many of those are suicides? Officially none, but imho it’s significant. When the driver is alone in the car, maybe the majority.
      Most studies postulate alcohol/drugs increase accidents through impaired reflexes and judgement, overconfidence and increased aggressiveness.
      I have never seen increased suicidal tendencies mentioned, and I guess it’s difficult to tell.

      Survivors could tell (I personally know such a case), but they will not do so officially, because of social guilt but more because of insurance policies.

      • Kuiperdolin says:

        That’s why old grim stories about suicide often have it by hanging. There’s no plausible deniability, like the bloke who went off the road with a belly full of liquid courage, or the one who blew his brains out “while cleaning his hunting rifle”, or fell from the roof with a belly full of liquid courage, or or or. So it’s basically ultra-heinous.

        • Eric Rall says:

          In that light, it’s particularly ironic that it’s not uncommon for cause of death to be mis-recorded as Suicide by Hanging because the true cause of death (accidental death during autoerotic asphyxiation) is even less socially acceptable.

          • Statismagician says:

            Perhaps I’m insufficiently jaded, but source? I wouldn’t have thought there was enough of the latter for this to happen very often.

      • chaosmage says:

        Interesting! Don’t those high-suicide groups named in the piece all have reduced access to high speed cars? So they can’t hide their suicides as car accidents like everybody else?

        If that’s it, self driving cars should give us a sharp rise in suicide rate.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If that’s it, self driving cars should give us a sharp rise in suicide rate.

          Not nearly enough. About 20% of car crashes are single-vehicle vs fixed-object crashes. Some of those are no doubt due to bad weather or non-suicidal drunkenness or just plain bad driving, but even assuming they’re all suicides that would bring the US rate to 17 per 100,000, still lower than these really high suicide places.

      • Darwin says:

        And on the topic of driving fatalities, whether something is ruled as suicide can have a big financial impact on survivors if they had various types of insurance. This can influence both how investigators label it and how the person committing suicide goes about it.

        Maybe these poor ethnic groups just don’t have life insurance and so can’t be bothered to make it look like an accident as often as wealthier groups do.

      • thetitaniumdragon says:

        Most vehicular accidents are indeed accidental. Given the sheer number of drunk drivers out, it’s not surprising that a lot of people die that way. Cars are very dangerous when mishandled. We know that drugs harm your reflexes, and moreover, someone driving by themselves when drunk is not even remotely surprising – in fact, it seems rather likely, as they’re off on their own so they don’t have someone around to be a designated driver or to be like “Maybe we should call a cab?” or whatever.

        The idea that most of them are suicides is extremely implausible. Some small number are, but… yeah.

        ODing on drugs has a similar issue. Is an OD intentional, or accidental? Most are probably accidental, but some numbers are probably deliberate, and it is hard to know how many. However, given the stories of people who accidentally ODed, it doesn’t seem likely that most of them were suicides – most of them are just addicts with no self control.

    • TJ2001 says:

      Or more simply – cultural acceptance of suicide as an “Acceptable end”….

      For example “Christian” western European culture has a very strong more against suicide as well as strong social/cultural pressure to identify a cause of death (more or less) accurately. So for example this has (mostly) caused rejection of “assisted suicide” as even being situationally ethical in the most extreme cases of terminal illness coupled with intense pain/suffering.

      Whereas some Pacific American Indian and Inuit tribes (Used to) have cultural “requirements” that if you were “terminally ill” or would be too much of a drain on your family – you were sort of duty bound to do yourself in to prevent your own care from depriving the children….

      As to suicides in the spring – it makes total sense. Remember that in “The Wild” – the spring is the MOST resource deprived time of the year…. Everything is kicking into “grow” but there is nothing to eat…. You have eaten your supplies all winter and now you have to save the remainder for planting…. Frozen foods are now depleted or thaw and rot.. Wild animal populations are depleted from winter deaths… Fish populations are all far out at sea…. None of the early season veggies or berries get going until May or June – but all your frozen food thawed in April….

      Vs the winter where people with issues would be expected to kick in and help make sure all the children make it through the winter… Losing a grandmother in the middle of winter may be catastrophic to the children…

      • keaswaran says:

        Not for nothing did TS Eliot say

        April is the cruellest month, breeding
        Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
        Memory and desire, stirring
        Dull roots with spring rain.
        Winter kept us warm, covering
        Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
        A little life with dried tubers.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        By the way, American Indians are going through a rough patch at present, with sharp declines on a number of metrics, such as sharply falling SAT/ACT scores:

        https://twitter.com/UnsilencedSci/status/924049713065689088

        In contemporary America, there is very little interest in Native Americans, but they are not doing well in recent years. I’m not sure why.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Reasons for “very little interest:”

          1) Most Native Americans live “out of sight, out of mind-” either concentrated on rural reservations out West that white Americans rarely visit, or so thinly scattered among the rest of the population that they’re practically invisible to the majority.

          2) There’s more cognitive dissonance created by looking at Native Americans and trying to perceive what is happening to them while avoiding the obvious interpretation of “wow, our ancestors really screwed them over brutally.” It’s uncomfortable to think about, so there’s a tendency to look away.

          • TJ2001 says:

            Don’t overlook that many native american tribes want to maintain their own unique culture and heritage. Of course this is different than what they consider whatever miscellaneous American culture is around them….

            As you might imagine – this requires some measure of intentional isolation and intolerance on their end to maintain…. You can’t have it both ways…. A fully inclusive minority tends to get swallowed up into “Majority” culture within a few generations simply by having families with them….

            The devil of it is that if you want “Prosperity” – you have to traffic with as large a group as possible… But then your best and brightest children want to pursue their own fame and fortune… Which requires them to leave to get it. And thus they end up “losing” much of their unique culture….

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Men, women, whites, and blacks are also doing a little worse on the SAT graph you linked to – do you know why? I wonder if there’s some change in the SAT that’s affecting everyone, but disproportionately affecting Natives.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Here is Unsilenced Science’s graph of composite SAT scores from 1941-2019 by demographic group.

            https://twitter.com/UnsilencedSci/status/1198629212984229889

            I believe that some changes in the test may have driven down scores in 2018. But by 2019, the highest scorers, Asians, were back to setting new records while everybody else remained down.

            The big test score stories of recent years have been Native Americans dropping and Asians continuing to pull away from whites into a commanding lead.

          • TJ2001 says:

            Or it could be that public school budgets tightened during The Great Recession and as a result they cut back on Standardized Test Preparation classes (along with fine arts, sports, and everything else….)

            School budgets were disproportionately hurt in poor areas because while state and federal funding remained – the local portion of the funding got sacked because of lower local tax revenues across the board…

            Everybody rails against “Government taxes” – but local taxes predominately pay for local schools, fire, police, and roads….

          • Scott Alexander says:

            That drop is crazy. I wonder if something happened to make all the best-off Natives stop identifying as Natives for some reason and leave the category to worse-off people on reservations.

          • TJ2001 says:

            The other side of this falls into a more complicated “Political” situation. Remember that most “Official Tribes” in the united states are actually independent “Nations” which exist as Sovereign Nations within the USA. Official Tribal Membership is controlled by the officials of these Nations. These people are considered “Citizens” of these Nations and are not always automatically US Citizens. Some of these people also have “Dual US citizenship” – but some do not. The US Government deals with these Nations as actual Nations – and so benefits are administered through the Official National Tribal Leadership…. Official Recognition of their Citizens or Non-citizens is governed by a number of treaties and it is NOT straightforward…

            And so leaving the reservation “Nation” for the USA to pursue your own fame and fortune creates a sticky political situation which several of my friends have unhappily dealt with. They basically lost all claim to any benefit due to their Native American heritage…

            Here’s an example. Several of my friends were considered “Native Americans” so long as they maintained residency and citizenship within their “Nation” and lived on the reservation. BUT they were simply considered “white people” in the larger USA…. It was no fun for them because there was no work and poverty was horrible on The Reservation – but they were not allowed to claim any “Native American” status when they left.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            It’s possible that Native American SAT scores used to be boosted by Elizabeth Warren-types identifying as American Indian, but perhaps that has fallen out of fashion?

            In general, though, American Indians seem to be suffering on a number of metrics similar to Red State whites.

            I hear meth cited as the most likely single cause, but I don’t really know.

        • thetitaniumdragon says:

          I was going to say that, you know, over time, we should expect people to move away from the reservations, because the reservations are awful, so over time, they will become increasingly bad on average because the top people will move away to get jobs/better jobs outside of their community and integrate with mainstream America, which will cause a long-term brain drain. Combined with issues with inbreeding, we should expect this to get worse over time, because the whole idea of reservations is pretty much garbage.

          But this is a very sharp decline in just the last few years, so that’s obviously wildly implausible.

          My guess is that it rhymes with heroin. And is also just heroin.

          Also,there seems to be a small decline in a bunch of groups, which suggests to me that it’s also possible that the test might have just been made a bit harder for a few years.

    • Matt M says:

      I think this is a large part of it as well.

      In the developed world, the word for “Someone is disappointed in their children, so they direct their son to kill them, and the son happily complies” is murder, not suicide…

    • Ttar says:

      This. AFAIK US statistics count drug OD as accidental death by defahlt, when in reality I strongly suspect a huge proportion is suicide. Addicts typically know how to dose themselves. I used to think drug users were probably just making mistakes but after knowing some; nah, there’s an intentional aspect to taking more than you’re sure you can handle.

    • Act_II says:

      The article Scott mocked points this out to a degree. It references a study showing that the deaths between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese come a lot closer to parity when counting suicidal reckless behavior as suicide.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        A lot of white guys engage in suicide by cop in the U.S.: e.g., in my neighborhood, a drifter sat down on the sidewalk in front of a bank and shot into the ground or into the air dozens of times until the LAPD came and killed him.

        Was Michael Brown in Ferguson a suicide-by-cop?

    • Mary says:

      In medieval England, even quite clear-cut cases of suicide would be ruled an accident if your wits were disordered — drowning yourself in a high fever, for instance.

    • Telomerase says:

      Yes, excellent point. In the small towns I’ve lived in, the cause of death would be concealed unless the police happened to hate you in particular… in which case you might find them reported as “suicide by old age” or “suicide by going to the wrong biker bar” 😉

      Seriously, these statistics aren’t comparable between countries. At best we could hope that stats of different ethnic groups in the same region might be accurate. (“suicide by not paying off the chekist mafia”…. hmmm….)

  64. Loweren says:

    Russian here, alcohol consumption certainly plays the part here, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union bringing massive economic instability. Here’s a graph of alcohol Vs suicide rates (Razvodovsky 2015): http://psychopathology.imedpub.com/articles-images/psychopathology-Russia-Belarus-1-3-22-g001.png

    • Brassfjord says:

      That graph seems to show that the rate of suicides changes before the rate of alcohol consumption, indicating some societal reason for both suicide and alcoholism to rise or drop.

    • thetitaniumdragon says:

      The increase in death rates in the former USSR seems to be mostly associated with the end of Gorbachov’s anti-alcohol campaign; it went way up after that ended, which also roughly coincided with the end of the USSR, which resulted in people blaming the collapse of the USSR rather than alcohol; the problem is that the anti-alcohol campaign had demonstrably lowered the death rate previously.

      One thing worth noting is that some deaths from things like ODing on alcohol or other drugs are probably suicides, but there’s no way of knowing that because it’s hard to tell the difference between an accidental and a deliberate OD.

      Looking at overall death rates rather than “suicide rates” may be helpful.

      • Brassfjord says:

        A former drug addict I know says that all addiction is slow suicide by those who are too afraid of doing it fast.

  65. omegastick says:

    Given the vast differences in suicide rate between groups, how quickly they change, and how no hypothesis seems to stick, is it possible that suicide rates are actually fluctuating almost randomly? By this, I mean that any group’s suicide rate is driven largely by unpredictable, local events and spillover effects from their neighbours. In that case, we would be trying to find patterns in data that is essentially random.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Then how come the Inuit, Chukchi, Nenets, Evenks, etc are all unrelated small, ethnically Altaic, far-northern groups with a history of alcoholism and colonialism, and all have suicide rates an order of magnitude above most of the world? Or how come Indian diaspora populations in Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, and Suriname are all known for their suicidality?

      • omegastick says:

        I’m not confident about this, but I reckon if you randomly select 3-4 groups of people you can find some similarities between them.

      • PedroS says:

        Chukchi (16,000 people) , Nenets (50,000) et al. are very small groups. A small absolute variation in suicide numbers will cause large swings in their relative rates. How can w be sure we are not measuring lizardmen?

        • Frederic Mari says:

          That.

          I remember the first time I arrived in London. The newspaper that day was, like “RED CODE ALERT! Murder rate explodes in the capital!”

          Buried in the text, it was saying it went from 20 dead to 25 or somesuch. I breathed more easily straight…

          I mean, there’s still something to it if most small, disrupted, indigenous, alcohol-naive communities living near the Poles exhibit high suicide rates *over time* but I wouldn’t take specific numbers or even big swings too seriously.

        • Anthony says:

          In 2017, Vermont had almost three times the murder rate of New Hampshire.

          That’s the difference between 13 and 17 murders.

          Also: http://www-stat.wharton.upenn.edu/~hwainer/Readings/Most Dangerous eqn.pdf

          • Telomerase says:

            Ha, yeah, I live in NH… the crime rate is so low here that one guy can cause the whole yearly crime rate to go up or down 😉

            The truth is that VT is actually a little less violent… NH is still catching up on dropping the drug war. 80% of us want to legalize, but the governors are always in the police-union’s pocket. (This is true for both political parties, too, which is weird… Lynch, Hassan, and Sununu all fought legalization, even though Sununu was elected on a platform of decriminalization…)

            Now comparing NH cities of comparable size to those in high-crime states… that could tell you something. And mostly, that something is going to be that taxing the working class more for various social-control programs is very destructive. Most problems really are from poverty and unemployment, as Scott has mentioned in some of his old posts about mental illness in Detroit.

            Trying to solve violence by restricting weapon ownership to just criminals, for instance… NH not only has no gun laws, we literally have no sharp-object laws (they quietly disappeared in the early 2000s to let firemen carry switchblade seatbelt cutters…). Yet there are never any drive-by naginata attacks.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Because rates seem stable from year to year, there aren’t that many small Siberian ethnicities, and I don’t know of any Siberian ethnicities with surprisingly low suicide rates.

      • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

        There are several Indian diaspora populations in East Africa (the British Empire seems to have shipped Indian people all over the place). Obviously there are now many in the UK, US and Canada. Do they show similar rates?

      • Brandon Berg says:

        What do you mean by “ethnically Altaic?” I’m only familiar with that term in reference to the hypothesized (but generally rejected) Altaic language family. Apparently there is an Altai ethnic group, but they live on the southern border of Russia.

        • k987 says:

          The Altai people live in or around the Altai mountains, presumably one derives its name from the other. The hypothesised Altaic family is named this because it’s thought originate in this area (like Uralic after the Ural mountains).

          The proposed Altaic languages are Turkic (includes Altai), Mongolic, Tungusian (such as Manchu and Evenki), often Korean and Japanese are added as well.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I might be using that term incorrectly; I meant the supercategory that includes all Siberian ethnicities.

      • keaswaran says:

        I recently read “The Secret of Our Success” on the recommendation of this blog. Somewhere in there, Henrich mentions that suicide tends to be socially transmitted in contagious clusters. It’s quite plausible that either shared geography or shared ethnicity facilities these clusters spreading across national borders, but also coming and going semi-randomly. “The Sorrows of Young Werther” caused a suicide cluster of early 19th century German proto-hipsters, and Robin Williams caused a different suicide cluster.

      • sovietKaleEatYou says:

        I think that some level of “this is random” can be responsible for all of these being small culturally homogenous groups. Suicide is famously contagious and prone to “epidemics” within a tight culture (see the suicides in Muslim girls’ schools that Orham Pamuk wrote about in “Snow”, etc.). So the list of groups with highest suicide rates could be a list of small groups that suffered a particularly bad suicide epidemic. Of course things like alcohol and depletion of traditional lifestyle can be contributing factors, but I would suspect that the fact that these are small groups is indeed random (i.e. if you combined all people who live in a comparatively sized small community and controlled for things like income, alcohol and climate, they wouldn’t have higher suicide rates than citizens in more spread out groups)

      • tv says:

        Maybe rather than randomly fluctuating, suicides exhibit behavioral epidemic patterns? If suicidal tendency is a culture bound syndrome, even if triggered by some external factors like alcoholism and social alienation, it could explain a few things. For instance, once it has been normalised in a cultural group like the Inuit it can remain prevalent after the initial trigger, the introduction of alcohol, has subsided significantly.

        This can also mean that the Finno-Ugrian suicide hypothesis at some point in time held true. If the data for Finland, Estonia, and Hungary are markedly different from the surrounding countries, that is something that warrants an explanation. This may also be good new if true, because it suggests that such a behavioral epidemics can be stopped, by doing whatever these countries did to normalise their suicide rates.

      • attilathekid says:

        How independent are these though? And how many of those are just proxies for the kind of small sample sizes that would produce effects this large under the null?

        I’m worried about all kinds of confounders here, like:
        Altaic –> polar –> no big civilizations –> small sample sizes –> big effects

        And to get the others, maybe:
        Altaic –> polar –> no big civilizations –> colonialism
        Altaic –> polar –> poverty –> alcoholism

        I guess to be convinced I would need to see evidence that Altaic/alcoholism/polar/colonialism predicts suicide well among groups of this size worldwide.

      • Darwin says:

        Are those 8 groups the 8 highest rates in the world, or a selection of 8 among the 100 highest rates which happen to fall into recognizable patterns with each other?

        At this level of granularity – every ethnic group X every country – it feels like we’re looking at a huge number of possible groups. Hundreds of thousands? Millions? So maybe if we looked at every possible group we’d find these are just part of the tail of the normal distribution, along with a lot of other small groups without obvious connections.

  66. broblawsky says:

    How well do sleep disorders correlate with suicidality? Both alcohol abuse and extreme latitudes mess with circadian rhythms.

    • MNH says:

      I think you delivered a slam dunk here. This very blog has written at least about the connections between circadian rhythm and depression, and from there it’s an easy step

      • Scott Alexander says:

        That explanation seems contradicted by the part where white Alaskans and white Russians don’t have the same suicide issues that Inuit and Chukchi do.

        • DarkTigger says:

          Also how would Guyana fit into that?

        • broblawsky says:

          Maybe it’s an alcohol tolerance thing? People with better tolerance might be able to minimize sleep disruption caused by intoxication – to “sleep it off” – while people without alcohol tolerance cannot.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          My migraine tracker said bad sleep to be no 1 migraine cause and alcohol consumption in the previous two days the second. But since I track sleep with Oura it’s pretty obvious a “good” night sleep after more than one drink isn’t remotely as good as I think it is. So in the end it looks like alcohol just mediates bad sleep, and that itself is the main cause. Also migraines halved after better tracking (Oura), and all but disappeared since I started forcing a bit of extra sleep with 5mg zolpidem.

          Could be the same here – a background of easy-to-disturb sleep patterns, made worse by alcohol. I wonder how caffeine consumption figures into this – that’s another common cause of bad sleep that people have a tendency to ignore.

          Add a bit of genetic predisposition, and you could end up with something like 1 hour of REM per month and all the weird behavior usually blamed on alcohol.

          Edit: this could also turn into an easily verifiable model. Give points to causes of bad sleep (alcohol, caffeine, latitude, maybe genetics, whatever one could get their hands on) and try correlating the total with the suicide rate. So you don’t need a single cause anymore – all of the above could be just proxy for severe lack of sleep.

        • broblawsky says:

          OK, here’s a paper suggesting a correlation between inactive alcohol/aldehyde dehydrogenase and suicide – Japanese males without the ability to produce either enzyme are at 10x as great a risk for suicide as compared to Japanese males with the ability to produce both. Lacking the ability to produce alcohol dehydrogenase is also well correlated with Restless Leg Syndrome, which is known to have some kind of relationship with circadian rhythms, and is also at least somewhat genetic.

          Obviously, disentangling sleep disorders, alcoholism, depression, and suicide is a fairly Sisyphean task. However, it seems like a reasonable hypothesis that genetic factors could amplify circadian rhythm disruptions caused by a combination of alcohol abuse and extreme latitudes to create an unusual spike in suicide, beyond what might be predicted by depression and alcohol abuse. This doesn’t really explain the Indian diaspora questions, though.

          • Ketil says:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_alcohol_consumption_per_capita
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

            I did a quick check of the top 30 from the heavy drinking countries, and below are their place (and name) in the suicides list. A quarter of them (7) are also top thirty suiciders, and almost half (14) are above the 50-mark…out of 190 countries in total. I’d like to do a scatterplot or correlation of the numbers, but couldn’t easily get the data in tabular form, and now it’s getting too late. Any takers?

            9  Belarus (more info) Europe 21.4 5 39.3 45 6.2 6.34
            37  Moldova Europe 13.4 19 24.1 99 3.8 6.34
            4  Lithuania (more info) Europe 25.7 2 47.5 37 6.7 7.09
            3  Russia (more info) Europe 26.5 1 48.3 31 7.5 6.44
            103  Romania (more info) Europe 8.0 85 13.9 141 2.4 5.79
            14  Ukraine (more info) Europe 18.5 7 34.5 81 4.7 7.34
            35  Hungary Europe 13.6 31 22.2 45 6.2 3.58
            69  Czech Republic Europe 10.5 62 17.2 94 4.2 4.1
            74  Slovakia Europe 10.1 47 18.4 137 2.6 7.08
            97  Portugal Europe 8.6 82 14.3 99 3.8 3.76
            66  Serbia Europe 10.9 60 17.3 68 5.2 3.33
            180  Grenada North America 1.7 181 2.1 175 1.0 2.1
            37  Poland Europe 13.4 21 23.9 115 3.4 7.03
            16  Latvia Europe 17.2 10 31.0 71 5.1 6.08
            32  Finland (more info) Europe 13.8 39 20.8 36 6.8 3.06
            10  South Korea (more info) Asia 20.2 11 29.6 11 11.6 2.55
            48  France (more info) Europe 12.1 52 17.9 40 6.5 2.75
            51  Australia (more info) Oceania 11.7 59 17.4 56 6.0 2.9
            56  Croatia Europe 11.5 44 18.8 71 5.1 3.69
            66  Ireland (more info) Europe 10.9 54 17.6 94 4.2 4.19
            72  Luxembourg Europe 10.4 73 15.0 59 5.8 2.59
            90  Germany Europe 9.1 90 13.6 79 4.8 2.83
            40  Slovenia Europe 13.3 28 22.4 88 4.5 4.98
            89  Denmark Europe 9.2 94 13.2 68 5.2 2.54
            105  Bulgaria Europe 7.9 95 13.1 118 3.2 4.09
            130  Spain (more info) Europe 6.1 129 9.3 124 3.1 3
            22  Belgium Europe 15.7 31 22.2 19 9.4 2.36
            46  South Africa Africa 12.8 34 21.7 71 5.1 4.25

          • broblawsky says:

            I just did it. For a linear regression between suicide rate per 100,000 people and alcohol consumption in liters per capita per year, R^2 = .2743 for both the male and female suicide rate, R^2 = .3691 for the male-only suicide rate, and R^2 = 7E-6 for the female-only suicide rate. Alcohol consumption is at least moderately correlated with male suicide, but seems entirely uncorrelated with female suicide.

          • broblawsky says:

            I just used the normal equation to compute a linear regression for suicide rate (male + female) per 100k, using the latitude of a nationals capital (absolute value) and the ethanol consumption of that nation per capita per year.
            S.R = -17.14 + 0.24835*latitude + 1.44258*ethanol

            This gives us an R^2 of .4465, which is actually pretty decent.

          • broblawsky says:

            Also, Restless Leg Syndrome is a significant suicide risk factor, even when excluding people with depression or insomnia.