Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bridgend suicides of young people

"The suicides have turned Bridgend-a working-class former mining town of some 39,000 people near the western shore of South Wales-into a place of palpable sorrow and dread. Nestled in a valley and often shadowed by dark clouds and thick fog, the town cannot escape the specter of so many unexplained deaths, and authorities there are desperately trying to prevent copycats. Two years ago police asked the media to stop covering the suicides, which has led many to believe the death toll is higher. An officer at the Bridgend police station told a reporter for PEOPLE, "I'm not allowed to talk about it. It would be my job." And the South Wales police department declined to comment beyond saying through a press officer that "we do not believe the deaths were linked."
"The absence of concrete answers or plans on how to control the deaths has led to wild speculation: Could the deaths be the work of a serial killer? Could there be a suicide cult? Did the victims-most of them normal kids, many with solid plans for the future-make some kind of secret pact to meet on the other side? Prior to the news blackout, police insisted there was no evidence of such a cult or pact. Yet there is no denying the connections among the victims or the feeling each hanging somehow triggered the next-an unstoppable contagion that has left locals terrified. After her husband's death, "If my son was late getting up, I was petrified, and he felt the same way about me," Michelle, a schoolteacher's assistant, says of her son, now 19. "I still wonder sometimes what am I going to find upstairs.",,20595753,00.html

Dr David Healy is a psychiatrist and author who has written a post about the Bridgend suicides. He raises the point that coroners often do not take heed of the medications, such as antidepressants, that the deceased person had been taking. Yet it is known that many drugs can trigger suicidal tendencies and this has been demonstrated by him in trials of healthy individuals.

In the England and Wales there are roughly 5000 suicides in roughly 60 million people per year. This would until recently have led to around 2000 hangings per year, 34 hangings per million people per year, 3.5 per 100,000 people per year.
Bridgend in South Wales has a population of 40,000. The greater Bridgend area has a population of 130,000. There should be 18 hangings per 100,000 people over a 5 year period, 24 per 130,000 per year.
In recent years however in both the US and UK there has been a rise in the number of hangings so that this mode of death now accounts for 50% of cases. If this applies in the Bridgend area, we might expect 28 hangings per 130,000 over a 5 year period, roughly 6 per year.
There were in fact 79 hangings in Bridgend between January 2007 and February 2012. The hangings continue unabated, so the true figure may be in the 90s. This means there have been 16 per year – an excess of 10 or more hangings per year.
The police could find no evidence to link the deaths but according to the coroner it was the sensationalist reporting by the media that was causing copycat suicides. One link that was ignored was the fact that many of the deceased young people were on antidepressants.
Having coroners refuse to keep a public record of drug intake and browbeat the media into keeping silent seems like the worst of all possible worlds.

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