Vanity Fair/ Alex Shoumatoff
“I turn off on the dodgy road to Shwt, which to the non-Welsh ear sounds somewhere between “shoot” and “shit.” A blind curve descends to a narrow stone bridge over a little river rippling through a grove of dwarf oaks. It’s a glorious, sun-flooded spring morning. The oaks are still leafless, but daffodils are out everywhere, the gorse is spattered with yellow blossoms, and the tits and thrushes are singing their hearts out. There’s nothing suicidal about this rolling, pastoral landscape, drenched with the sense of being inhabited for thousands of years, that I can detect. But a few years ago, a local 17-year-old boy left his car running and gassed himself here.
While there has always been a lot of suicide in the lowlands of South Wales, what’s been happening lately in the county borough of Bridgend is something different and very troubling. Since January of 2007, 25 people between the ages of 15 and 28 have killed themselves within 10 miles of here, all by hanging, except for one 15-year-old, who lay down on the tracks before an oncoming train after he was teased for being gay. This isn’t just a series of unrelated, individual acts. It’s an outbreak—a localized epidemic—of a desire to leave this world that is particularly contagious to teenagers, who are impressionable and impulsive and, apparently in Bridgend, not finding many reasons for wanting to stick around. It represents, if the official statistics are to be believed, a fivefold increase in Bridgend’s young-male suicide rate in three years.
Outbreaks like this are rare but not new. Plutarch writes..”