|The outer walls of the Arena of Nîmes|
Perhaps the most-visited site in Nîmes is the Roman amphitheatre. More commonly known today as the Arena of Nîmes, it is now used mainly for bullfighting events, music concerts and, more recently.....suicide attempts.
Tall and famous monuments have always attracted suicide candidates, and the Arena of Nîmes is no exception, with two recorded suicides there over the ten years up to last November. It was then that events suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse.
There have been five suicide attempts at the Amphitheatre over the last four months, three of which succeeded, with the other two leading to very serious injuries. All those concerned were aged between 20 and 30 and they had all jumped off the arena's high outer walls.
In an attempt to prevent further suicides the city's authorities have issued a byelaw which bars entry to the amphitheatre to all visitors who come alone. They are also considering setting up a psychological trauma unit to deal with people who are in shock after witnessing someone throwing themselves off the walls and plunge down to the street. Children are particularly vulnerable to psychological trauma in these circumstances, the authorities say, and this has added added a further sense of urgency to efforts to find ways of preventing similar suicides in the future.
Various meetings and consultations have been taking place in order to try and understand the phenomenon, but no answers are as yet forthcoming, and the byelaw has no 'end-of' date and will thus remain in vigour for as long as authorities deem it to be appropriate.
There have been several instances in France over the last three years in which a specific community, or group of people with something in common, or group using the same method, has suddenly experienced a dramatic increase in suicide attempts. They include a spate of about a dozen suicides by France Télécom employees (although there is disagreement about just how much higher this rate is compared to that of the population as a whole), five attempts at self-immolation in under a year, three of which succeeded, five policemen in Paris who killed themselves with their service weapons in just one week, and a spate of people who died in their cars during the Christmas period and the first half of January this year after deliberately stopping them on high-speed railway level crossings in front of oncoming trains. This last example, incidentally, appears to repeat itself regularly at this time of the year.
News of these sudden spates of suicides involving common factors is to be seen regularly in the French media, and I have the impression that this isn't the case in Britain or America, whose media I follow assiduously. Why this may be I do not know, but I do know that France, as a Western country, has abnormally high suicide rates, particularly in comparison to those of Britain and America.
Meanwhile though, let's just hope that the mysterious series of suicide attempts which have occurred at the Arena of Nîmes ends just as quickly as it began.....