Suicide is contagious. Psychologists call it The Werther Effect, and its influence is easily measurable: after a well-publicized suicide, not only does the overall rate of suicide increase, but there is also a dramatic spike in the rate of single-driver car crashes. Psychologists offer various theories to explain the phenomenon, but no one can really know why this deathly consensus is wired into our thinking, why the compulsion to death can pass so easily and so subtly from one person to another. I still can’t explain the Plano suicides, why they began that year and why they stopped, and I don’t know if my own near-fatal collision was bound to those deaths by some algorithm of social cognition. More than a decade has passed, and when I talk to my Plano friends about that grim year, none of us can agree on the numbers of the dead, and we have trouble remembering the causes that we explained so certainly when we were sixteen. But I can still see that human figure, leaping in front of my car, even if the wind finally erased him into Plano’s immaculate sky.
more from Stefan Merrill Block at Granta here. (PS 93% to our fund raising goal and only about a day left. This is the perfect opportunity for the lazy, the indifferent, and the self-absorbed to step in and really close the gap. Your moment of redemption is here! Please take a minute or two to give something, even the smallest amount will help us continue to be what you would like us to continue being. Thanks.)