The group also cites a study of 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It concluded that 94% of them were alive or had died naturally long after their thwarted attempts.
In a recent experiment, Loewenstein tried to find out how likely people might be to dance alone to Rick James's ''Super Freak'' in front of a large audience. Many agreed to do so for a certain amount of money a week in advance, only to renege when the day came to take the stage. This sounds like a goof, but it gets at the fundamental difference between how we behave in ''hot'' states (those of anxiety, courage, fear, drug craving, sexual excitation and the like) and ''cold'' states of rational calm. This empathy gap in thought and behavior -- we cannot seem to predict how we will behave in a hot state when we are in a cold state -- affects happiness in an important but somewhat less consistent way than the impact bias. ''So much of our lives involves making decisions that have consequences for the future,'' Loewenstein says. ''And if our decision making is influenced by these transient emotional and psychological states, then we know we're not making decisions with an eye toward future consequences.'' This may be as simple as an unfortunate proclamation of love in a moment of lust, Loewenstein explains, or something darker, like an act of road rage or of suicide.
And I wonder if the act of writing a note, of having to cool down and put one's thoughts in order, is in itself something of a deterrent if the decision to kill yourself isn't a rational one...
Beyond sheer lethality, however, what makes gun suicide attempts so resistant to traditional psychological suicide-prevention protocols is the high degree of impulsivity that often accompanies them. In a 1985 study of 30 people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds, more than half reported having had suicidal thoughts for less than 24 hours, and none of the 30 had written suicide notes.
“The goal is to put more time between the person and his ability to act,” Miller said. “If he has to go down to the basement to get his ammunition or rummage around in his dresser for the key to the gun safe, you’re injecting time and effort into the equation " maybe just a couple of minutes, but in a lot of cases that may be enough.”
It reminded me of what Richard Seiden said about people thwarted from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When I mentioned this to Miller, he smiled. “It’s very much the same,” he said. “The more obstacles you can throw up, the more you move it away from being an impulsive act. And once you’ve done that, you take a lot of people out of the game. If you look at how people get into trouble, it’s usually because they’re acting impulsively, they haven’t thought things through. And that’s just as true with suicides as it is with traffic accidents.”
In a 2001 University of Houston study of 153 survivors of nearly lethal attempts between the ages of 13 and 34, only 13 percent reported having contemplated their act for eight hours or longer. To the contrary, 70 percent set the interval between deciding to kill themselves and acting at less than an hour, including an astonishing 24 percent who pegged the interval at less than five minutes.