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Posted at 07:53 AM ET, 10/15/2012

A look at metro-system suicides worldwide

As in most countries, suicide in India is largely a young person’s epidemic: 70 percent of suicides in the country are among people under the age of 44, many whom end their lives out of “parental disapproval of romance and worries about college grades and jobs,” according to a recent report by the Washington Post’s Rama Lakshmi.


A Metro train arrives at Pul Banghash station in New Delhi, India. In New Delhi, 12 people have killed themselves at rail transit stations this year. (Amir Bhargava - Bloomberg News)

In New Delhi, 12 people have killed themselves at rail transit stations this year, and most of the dead were under 30, Lakshmi found. In response to the increase in attempts, authorities in Delhi are raising the heights of walls and railings at several New Delhi Metro stations. But they say they cannot afford to build sliding screen doors to act as barriers at each station, which has been done in Singapore and Bangkok.

Another study found that in Kolkata, the highest incidents of suicide at transit stations was also among those 34-40 years of age. More than a quarter of the people committing suicide in this study were office workers.

Here’s a look at the demographics of metro-system suicide attempts around the world, and what countries are doing to try to prevent them:

A 2007 analysis showed that the majority of people who attempt to end their lives on subway systems are likely to be in their 20s, single and live alone. The attempts tend to occur at busier, more crowded stations. Metro systems that have a “pit” underneath the track see higher survival rates, because the gaps prevent bodily contact with the train.

A 2004 study of 306 cases on the Munich subway system between 1980 and 1999, published in the European Journal of Public Health, found that those who tried to kill themselves on the metro system tended to be younger than other suicide attempters and are more likely to be female. Women tended to attempt suicide in the morning, while men did so in the evening.

By analyzing coroner’s office investigations of the 129 suicides in the Montreal Metro from 1986 to 1996, researchers found that most of the victims had mental health problems — usually depression. Twenty-seven percent had lived in a mental health facility.

“Suicide victims intentionally go to the metro to kill themselves, often tell others beforehand, and are generally in treatment for serious psychiatric problems,” the author concluded.

In Hong Kong, most suicide attempters are “unmarried, psychotic young men” under psychiatric care, according to a 2009 paper in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The authors found that installing platform screen doors in metro stations reduced subway suicides by a whopping 60 percent.

Suicide rates in many Asian countries soared during the recession, leading Hong Kong and other regions to ramp up installation of safety barriers on subway platforms.

A review of all 3,240 suicide attempts on the London underground rail system between 1940 and 1990 found that there were significantly fewer incidents on Sundays than on the other days of the week, and the rate of attempts was highest in the spring. Nearly two-thirds of the incidents involved men. The peak age group was 25-34.

And last month, the Washington Post reported that 33 people have deliberately jumped in front of Metro trains since 2009 in Washington, and 26 have died. In response, Metro is hanging signs and posters that include suicide hotline numbers in trains and buses and at station platforms.

By  |  07:53 AM ET, 10/15/2012

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