Thursday, January 03, 2013

Interrupted Suicide And Mass Killings

In contemplating these mass shootings and how they might be stopped, something that we have learned from suicide prevention might apply.  When the Duke Ellington Bridge in DC had a preventive barrier installed, there was no increase in suicides from the nearby Taft Bridge.  In general, impulsive suicides can be reduced by any interruption in the plan.  We hear patients tell us “the rope broke.”  We don’t ask why they didn’t just get another rope, but the question occurs to us. Depressed people have a plan in mind, and if it is interrupted, some of them just seem to accept that’s that and cease the attempt. As near as we can tell, there is an intense narrowing of focus, a type of dissociative or otherwise distant state in which the individual experiences himself as on a particular path that heads in only one direction.

Patients will even use the phrase “It’s like the spell was broken.” Interesting to contemplate.  From what I read of mass shooters, expected obstacles are no problem, and after the excitement switch is turned on by the first shots (or breaking glass, curiously), further interruptions are overridden without pause.  I do wonder if something that interrupted the act earlier in the chain might break spell.  The shooters do often close the event by committing suicide, so there is that similarity.  But the interruption gambit tends to work best on impulsive suicide, and mass shootings seem to be more planned events.

Still, we don’t know.  We seem to assume if the killer missed the 9AM bus he would just take the 10, or that if the weather was bad Friday he would come back Monday.  Perhaps not.  The need for drama may be such that preventing things from having their giant impact might be enough to prevent them altogether.


Texan99 said...

When you don't know what causes something, it's pretty hard to make sensible choices about how to avoid it. It's easy to get superstitious -- maybe if we could prevent lunar eclipses, that crazy guy wouldn't have gone over the edge.

Some people claim that mass shooters keep going until they encounter armed resistance, at which point they typically either surrender or kill themselves. I'm not sure that's universally true, but it's at least as plausible as any of the other measures people think will interrupt a mass shooting earlier in the process.

One of the most helpful things a shrink ever said to me was when I was maundering half-heartedly about suicidal notions, decades ago, in the throes of post-adolescence. He remarked, "Well, that certainly would eliminate a lot of options." It made me laugh and, as you said, sort of broke the spell.

dmoelling said...

Curtailing publicity for the event would seem essential to preventing future ones (or at least reduce it to killing family members only). The Newtown killings accomplished everything in the killers plan. The President of the United States came to see it!

THis is something only a politician can ask the media to do. No live shots after the crime is over, no round the clock coverage, no pictures of memorials etc. The President/Governor/Mayor can make that request as both request for the dead and to honor them by denying the killer his wishes.