From the end of 2007 through the beginning of 2008, the area of Bridgend, Wales experienced a series of suicides that grabbed the attention of the media. Based on the high level of coverage of these suicides, speculation rose about the possibility of a suicide cluster. A cluster refers to a high number of events occurring close in time and location.
In the case of Bridgend, the verification of a suicide cluster has yet to be fully established. Little is known about the cause of clusters with relation to suicide. And less is known about the prevalence of suicide clusters. Therefore, Philip Jones of the College of Medicine at the Institute of Life Sciences 2 at Swansea University in the United Kingdom wanted to explore the incident further.
Jones conducted an analysis of all suicide deaths that occurred in Wales between 2000 and 2009 among people from the age of 15 to 34. He focused on this age group because it allowed him to identify specific cause of death, mode of death, and contributing factors. Further, this age group is at higher risk for suicide than any other age group.
After looking at the mortality data during that time, Jones found that there were no other statistical suicide clusters. When he examined the Bridgend phenomenon in relation to the other suicides, he discovered that the suicides that occurred during those few months represented .78% of all suicides in the 10 year time period. Thus, Jones concluded that the Bridgend suicides were indeed part of a suicide cluster.
Although this verification clearly shows that suicide clusters do exist, the factors that contribute to them remain to be explained. For instance, although self-harming behaviors and substance abuse increase risk for suicide, not all people who abuse substances and self-harm will commit suicide. Additionally, the media presented exhaustive coverage of these events. And some of the suicides in Bridgend were subsequent to the media coverage, raising the possibility of media influence on clusters.
Despite these uncertainties, the results of this study offer insight into suicide patterns and could open the door for future research into factors that affect clusters. Jones added, “One important avenue for research could be interviewing individuals who survived a serious attempt at suicide and were part of a cluster of suicidal behavior.” Until then, these results verify that a suicide cluster existed in Bridgend in 2007 and 2008.
Jones, P., Gunnell, D., Platt, S., Scourfield, J., Lloyd, K., et al. (2013). Identifying probable suicide clusters in Wales using national mortality data. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71713. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071713
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