Thoughtful James Hamilton might come by to say something about this one. The Economist this week has a fascinating piece [subscription only] about the decline in suicide rates in the UK. No one has a sure explanation for why the numbers of men and women killing themselves in Britain have declined by tens of percent in the past ten years, but The Economist has a go. In the process of speculating about the cause of this pleasing phenomenon, it manages to be funny:

“Clifftops like Beachy Head (pictured above) have never been quieter”

“British women have struggled to find an appropriate way out since toxic coal gas was phased out in the early seventies”

I’m not sure if the humour is always intentional. For example, the author expresses puzzlement that male suicides are down at the same time that marriage rates are falling.

Prozac is dismissed. The author concludes that it’s likeliest that the safety Nazis and gun-controllers who people (especially instinctively libertarian ‘Bloggers) love to criticize should take most of the credit for saving lives. It’s not just the UK’s adoption of natural gas; the cleaning up of exhaust emissions and the rationing of paracetamol tablets seem to have contributed to the overall improvement. Unfortunately more old-fashioned suffocation methods are coming back into fashion as a result.

Before I dropped out of medical school, and as teenagers are wont to do, I contemplated suicide on a few occasions. One was some weeks after a psychology lecture in which it was pointed out that an effective way of overcoming suicidal feelings was to plan out the act in some detail. Perhaps this kind of visualization is meant to fill your head with unpleasant images or give you something practical to do to take your mind off how hopeless you think your life has become. Either way, I grabbed the Butlins box in which my medicines were stored—the box was a souvenir of a family holiday in Skegness and used to contain toffee, I think—I flipped through a pharmacology textbook, and I sat down at my desk. After plugging in my body mass, sex, and the dosage of the tablets I worked out that I didn’t have enough painkillers to erase the agony permanently. Grim laughter made a nice change from self-pity, and I didn’t seriously think about killing myself for at least a fortnight.

Anyway, all of this is just an excuse for me to point out that Cambridge students are stupider than Oxford students.