Beauty, Solace and Suicide: Two National Parks Top Grim List

A new report has placed the Blue Ridge Parkway and Grand Canyon National Park at the top of America's national parks in a grim statistic: suicide attempts.

The research, published today (Dec. 2) in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that between 2003 and 2009, there were 286 suicide attempts on national park property. Of those, 194 succeeded in ending their lives.

According to the report, more than three-quarters of suicides occur at home, but suicides in public places like national parks can be traumatic to both park staff and witnesses. They can also be expensive. In one case, the report found, the search for a missing suicide victim cost almost $200,000.

National park suicides are more likely than average to involve a jump or a car crash: In 19 percent of attempts, the person fell from a cliff or a bridge, and in 6 percent of cases, people attempted suicide by vehicle, sometimes driving off a cliff. In comparison, 2 percent of suicides nationally involve a jump, and less than 1 percent are transportation-related, the report noted.

In keeping with national trends, the most common suicide method in national parks  was by firearm. Men made up 83 percent of park suicides.

The highest number of suicides occurred in June, August and January, the report found, with 22, 21 and 21, respectively. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile (755 km) stretch of scenic road in North Carolina and Virginia, tied with Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park as the site of the most suicide events between 2003 and 2007. Both had a total of 21 attempted suicides. At the Blue Ridge Parkway, 15 committed suicide, while 11 did so at the Grand Canyon.

Natchez Trace Parkway in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee came in third with six attempts and 11 completed suicides. Colorado National Monument saw three attempts and 12 suicides, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California rounded out the top five with three attempts and 11 suicides.

The only other park with double-digit rates was New River Gorge National River. That park had a total of 10 attempts, nine of which were fatal. [See this table for suicides in other national parks]

The research found no long-term trends in the prevalence of suicide in the national park system, but the report's authors recommend training park rangers to recognize suicidal behavior. They also recommend that parks consider physical suicide barriers, such as pedestrian barriers on bridges. Research indicates that discouraging access to easy methods reduces suicide, the authors wrote, because people do not usually seek out an immediate alternative method.

You can follow LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.