By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor
East Japan Railway has installed blue lights in all of its Tokyo central loop train stations because, according to a Nov. 4 Associated Press story “they hope [the lights] will have a soothing effect and reduce suicides.”
Here’s the interesting thing:
There’s no scientific proof that the lights actually reduce suicides.
No scientific proof. Zero. None.
The rationale for installing blue lights, according to a spokesman from another train company that did so on a smaller scale several years ago, was “‘we thought we had to do something to save lives.'”
“We know there is no scientific proof that blue lights will help deter suicides. But if blue has a soothing effect on the mind, we want to try it to save lives,” [said Keihin Railway spokesman Osamu Okawa].
In other words, they did something (whether or not it might be effective) because they had to do something.
Here’s how it works:
The lights, which are brighter than standard fluorescent bulbs, bathe the platform below in an eerie blue light. They hang at the end of each platform, a spot where people are most likely to throw themselves in front of a speeding train.
Using the same “logic,” wouldn’t we be “doing something about suicide” if we treated suicidal people by having them sit in a blue-lit room? Or how about if we start carrying anti-suicide flashlights that cast a strong beam of blue light with which we could “bathe” any suicidal person we encountered with the soothing effect caused in humans by their exposure to the color blue?
Not only is there no evidence now that the train station lights might work, but isn’t it true that there is no way to conduct a future study of their effectiveness in such a large-scale environment? I’m not a scientist, but eight million people use the railway system in question every day, and I don’t see a way to demonstrate — even if fatalities suddenly decreased by a dramatic number — that other factors other than the lights might be the cause of the reduction. (There were 68 fatalities in Tokyo stations operated by East Japan Railway in the most recent year reported.)
It makes me wonder if East Japan Railway spent $165,000, the cost of installing the blue lights in Tokyo, simply to demonstrate that the train company is “doing something” about suicide fatalities on its tracks (but without regard to the plan’s effectiveness).
Even more importantly, shouldn’t this make us all wonder about how many activities in the suicide prevention field overall are being done simply because we think “we have to do something to save lives.” How many programs and practices ostensibly designed to prevent suicide are in place now that lack scientific evidence about their effectiveness? How many are implemented that don’t include a reliable way to measure their effectiveness? The “blue light suicide prevention program” now in use in Tokyo certainly deserves scrutiny. Which suicide prevention programs elsewhere deserve the same scrutiny?
[The abridged URL for this post is http://tinyurl.com/BlueLights .]
[Editor’s note: A substantive comment (click on the red “Responses” link below) was posted on Nov. 23 by a psychologist working in Japan, which includes …
Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:
Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service)：
Tokyo: 3264 4343
Tokyo Counseling Services:
… and it should be noted that the “Need Help?” tab above gives English-speaking readers guidance on what to do if they or someone they know is having thoughts of suicide. FJC]