Leaving Las Vegas: Suicide and Self-Destruction in the Neon Metropolis

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How do we account for the uneven distribution of suicide risk? What factors produce suicide and suicidality in some places more often than others? What shapes the local geography of resistance and vulnerability to suicide risk? To begin to answer these questions, I examine the problem of sharply elevated suicide rates in Las Vegas, the city with the highest metropolitan suicide rate in the U.S. Las Vegas is a unique city. With 2 million residents, it adds about 6,000 new residents every month and attracts about 40 million visitors a year, more visitors than almost any other city in the world. It is a fast growing city that is designed to serve its tourists more than its residents. Is the higher suicide rate—roughly twice the national average—somehow a reflection of this fact? Or does Las Vegas attract residents and tourists who are more predisposed to suicide than are other Americans? My approach combines ethnography and epidemiology to conduct a social autopsy of suicide and suicidal behavior. This approach relies on quantitative and geospatial analysis of data obtained from the local coroner’s office, and also features qualitative methods of historical analysis, direct social observation, interviews, and textual interpretation. One of my goals is to use this mixed-method approach to expand the discussion of risk factors for suicide beyond the psychopathological so that we may develop culturally appropriate and meaningful population level interventions for the prevention and reduction of suicide that can be deployed in both clinical practice and health policy. The research focuses on the variable effects of social isolation, population growth and demographic change, disparities in mental health access and care, addictions such as substance abuse and problem gambling, and the persistence of a libertarian, frontier cultural substrate that valorizes suicide and stigmatizes help-seeking.


Keywords: Suicide, Suicide Tourism, Suicide Contagion, Las Vegas, Risk Factors, Urban Health, Place Effects, Social Autopsy
Stream: Sociology, Geography
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof. Matt Wray

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA, USA


Jill Gurvey

Affiliation not supplied
Cambridge, MA, USA


Ref: I08P0437