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How North Sea Gas has saved thousands of British lives

… or at any rate prolonged the misery.

I have been reading The Motivated Mind by Dr Raj Persaud, British TV’s most familiar psychiatric face. This book is, for me, rather less than the sum of its parts. There is a structure to it, in the form of the assertion that human motivation is often very complicated, and more complicated than many psychologists have said. But mostly it is a mixture of more or less informed pop psychology about how to get on with your career, love life, etc., and references to interesting learned articles. It reads more like a bundle of articles than a real book, and personally I would have preferred it as a blog, but that may just be me. So I have not been reading this book solidly. Rather, I have been dipping.

And near the end (p. 396 of my paperback edition) I did come across this amusing titbit:

For many years the most popular method of suicide in Great Britain was asphyxiation – sticking one’s head in the oven and turning on the gas. After the discovery of natural gas deposits in the North Sea in the fifties and sixties, most English homes converted from coke gas, whose high carbon monoxide content made it highly lethal, to less toxic natural gas. From 1963 to 1978 the number of English suicides by gas dropped from 2,368 to eleven and the country’s overall suicide rate decreased by one-third. Despite England’s varying unemployment rate and social stresses since then, it has remained at this lower level.

Maybe you knew that, but I did not, and I find it most intriguing.

The moral? Plenty of them, I suppose, but one would be the extraordinary mismatch that constantly occurs in life between trivial causes and portentous consequences. Economic analysis that it would be more dignified to apply only to such insignificances as chocolate bar purchases – in the form of transaction costs – turns out to illuminate self-administered death also.

For me, if suicide ever beckons, it will either itself be painless, or my continuing existence will itself have become so painful that one more spasm of further pain will make no difference. So it does actually make sense to me that if you remove what must at least seem like a reasonably painless means of exiting from life, many who would have slipped out by this door, instead remain living until death, by natural causes, reaches out to them.

12 comments to How North Sea Gas has saved thousands of British lives

  • Anthony

    That is quite a disturbing post. Did you know that people of above average intelligence are far, far more likely to commit suicide? I hope it’s not because they have a more truthful picture of the world…

  • Julian Taylor

    I presume those who still succeed in committing suicide through sticking their head in the oven are the ones who, having failed in their attempt, accidentally hit the ignition switch whilst pulling themselves to their feet …

  • It’s not true to say that natural gas (methane) is ‘less toxic’. It’s non-toxic. You just can’t breathe it, that’s all.

  • guy herbert

    Likewise the authorities are terribly proud that pollution controls on vehicle emissions have radically reduced CO suicides in the last few years.

    The only really effective methods left are hanging and jumping off high buildings, neither of which is calculated to be easy or painless for the suicide nor other than distressing for other people. The latter is an important consideration for someone whose own life is miserable who would often prefer to minimise the inconvenience they cause to others.

    Always remember that your life, your body, and everything else you think you own are not yours to dispose of in the eyes of the state.

  • I tried to send a trackback, but it wouldn’t let me. This is bleeding monstrous.

  • Suicide will never be an option for me. Mainly because there are so beautiful men outside I haven’t even met yet. I’m a positivie person I think suicide is for weak ppl

  • GCooper

    Rain writes:

    “I’m a positivie person I think suicide is for weak ppl”

    You may grow up to think differently.

    I hope you never have that cause.

  • GVR

    i was wondering if this wasnt an argument for gun control of all things!

    i realise this is a libertarian blog, but i like to play the devil’s advocate.

    suicides fell, by reducing the most common form of suicide, in this case gas ovens.

    so wouldnt reducing guns, reduce the number of murders, which are the main cause(at least in the US) of murders?

  • Mike

    In reply to GVR no, suicides are attracted to a particular method almost a ritual. make a method unavaliable and the suicide rate reduces. murder is different weapon bans always increase murder rates.

  • Euan Gray

    murder is different weapon bans always increase murder rates.

    So why do states which have weapons bans have lower murder rates than states which don’t?


  • I have an image of a despondent person running the oven and not dying. So he gives it up, decides to live, and to celebrate lights up a smoke….and sets off all the non-toxic but still flammable North Sea gas now permeating the house, taking the houses on either side with him.

  • Petronius,

    That used to happen quite a bit. Don’t know whether it still does. We were told about it in our training at British Gas Services.