Japan often gets a reputation as a suicide-heavy nation but the social problem of self-destruction is something all parts of the world have to tackle.
The following is a list of five places in the world where suicides have most often occurred. It’s a bittersweet honor in that they are all either places of extreme natural beauty of impressive feats of engineering.
On the other hand, they are also places and countries that clearly do too little to prevent either the mental illness that leads to suicide of the act itself.
5 – Niagara Falls (Canada/USA)
The gorgeous Niagara Falls which straddles the Canadian-US border is often informally referred to as the “honeymoon capital of the world” with its picturesque scenery of lush blue and green. Apparently it’s that same romanticism that drives people to jump over the rocky edges into the fiercely powerful water.
A local historian claimed that 2,780 known suicides occurred around the falls from 1856 to 1995. Of Niagara Falls jumpers there has been a disproportionately large number of female victims (41%) compared to the rest of America.
4 – The Gap (Australia)
On the other side of the world it’s the same story. The beautiful cliffs of The Gap on South Head peninsula are part of a pleasant sightseeing spot that draws scores of people. However, an estimated 50 of the visitors per year go there with another agenda.
One bright spot in this is a man named Don Ritchie. Don was a WWII veteran, full-time insurance salesman, and part-time greatest guy who ever lived.
Over a span of 45 years he rescued at least 160 people from themselves just by lending them an ear and an occasional beer. Sadly, Mr. Ritchie is no longer with us but he lives on as an inspiration of how easy it can be to change people’s lives for the better.
3 – Golden Gate Bridge (USA)
Image: Wikipedia – Rich Niewiroski Jr.
What really needs to be said about the Golden Gate Bridge? It’s viewed by tourists from around the world daily and is considered to be one of (if not the) most beautiful bridges in the world. I can’t help thinking about the beginning of Full House when I see it, but that’s my own issue.
Its other reputation was the subject of a 2006 documentary The Bridge. The movie references two jumping survivors, Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines who both admitted to changing their minds only after making their potentially fatal jump.
As of 2005, the official suicide count was over 1,200. Very few efforts have been made to erect a fence reportedly due to budget and aesthetic concerns.
2 – Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge (China)
Image: Wikipedia – Patrick
The Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was a major achievement for the then recently in-power People’s Republic of China. Built entirely by the might of the nation it was the first industrial strength bridge of its kind there. When completed in 1968, it provided a much needed transportation link between Beijing and Shanghai.
Since then it has also attracted over 2,000 jumpers. This is considered to be a gross underestimate though and little effort from the government has been made to deter suicides.
And yet another heroic local named Chen Si has taken it upon himself to help out. If you’re ever around the bridge on a weekend you’ll probably see him with a baseball cap and pair of binoculars on patrol during his off time and saving over 100 lives (possibly 200 by now). However, if you’re planning to do something rash on the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, he’ll find you.
1 – Aokigahara Forest (Japan)
Image: Wikipedia – ajari
Also known as the “Sea of Trees” this sprawling forest rests at the foot of Mount Fuji.
Its reputations as a place of mystery and a location for suicide have fueled each other over the years snowballing into what is possibly the most active place for suicides in the world.
Much of the mystical reputation of Aokigahara may come from the old saying “once you set foot in Aokigahara you don’t come out.” However, this was probably referring to the very rough terrain of the deep forest carved out by volcanic activity.
Nevertheless, urban legends surrounding the area endure. Some believe that compasses or GPS can’t function which any soldier in training can tell you is false (aside from GPS being affected by the tree cover).
There is also a belief that digital clocks go haywire when passing through or near the forest – a claim that has about as much validity as saying Candyman in the mirror three times.
The number of suicides in Aokigahara tends to spike during times when film or television adaptations of a popular novel that deals with suicide and this forest Tower of Waves (Nami no To) are released. This is probably more due to heightened media attention than an actual rise in suicides though.
The real cause of Aokigahara and Japan’s large number of suicides is likely connected to the lingering stigma attached to mental illness which dissuades many from getting their needed treatment.
In the end, these rankings cannot be considered accurate because it’s impossible to accurately count the number of suicides that take place 24/7 and the top three especially could be completely reversed. It’s not the statistics that are important anyway.
We could point the finger at the places themselves for not setting-up the proper equipment or blame governments for not having adequate mental health programs for all.
Or, instead of waiting for someone else to do it, we could take the examples set by Chen Si and Don Ritchie and do something about it ourselves – starting with the people closest to you.
▼ Video showing some of a regular corpse patrol of Aokigahara. Images may be disturbing.
▼ Interview with Chen Si. Images may be inspiring.
▼ Short interview with Don Ritchie shortly before his passing.