Salon has done an excellent piece on the epidemic of suicides amongst Burning Man workers.
There is a great deal of concern about the high frequency of depression and suicide among Black Rock City LLC (BRC) workers. While several factors contribute to depression and suicide, and correlation is not causation, the fact remains that 3 suicides (in a year) is an astonishingly high rate for virtually any population so small, and more so because, while these deaths are mourned, they are not entirely unexpected.
To put this in perspective, the US Army in 2011 reported a peak of 22.9 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, which was the highest rate seen in a decade. Per 100,000 appears to be a standard metric for this sort of thing. Assuming the combined numbers of Gate, DPW and Rangers to be approximately 1,000 strong, that would mean a suicide rate of 300 per 100,000. Statistically speaking, Black Rock City’s staff are 13 times more likely to kill themselves in the off-season than veterans returning from active combat duty. Even in a “slow year”, where only one BRC worker commits suicide, that is still 4 times the Army’s highest recorded suicide rate.
Read the full story at Salon.com
The story has also been picked up by the Daily Mail, Rave Jungle, and EDM Tunes. There’s also a rebuttal piece on Medium. If the suicide rate is just standard, nothing special to Burning Man, then why are there no other festivals with such a high death toll?
The seven suicides in seven years were just for DPW workers. There have also been Burners who committed suicide at the event, or after the event, workers who died on the job, and tragic fatal accidents.
Burning Man’s official history traces its origins to a secret society known as The Suicide Club. Coincidence? Or dark irony?
Some previous related coverage:
DPW vs the Org – Labor Relations Board Ruling (2018)
Protesting the Protestors (2014)
Man Burns When Man Burns (2017)
Burning Man Electrician’s Tragic Death (2014)
Burner Dies At Utah Regional (2014)
Woman Dies At Burning Man (2014)
How Not To Die At Burning Man (2014)
9 Ways to Die At Burning Man (2013)
Monday is the New Saturday (2012)
There have also been two deaths by drowning at regional events, political activist Jay Houston Marx at Transformus NC (2015) and Matthew Vo at Lakes of Fire MI (2016).
The Black Rock Beacon also covered deaths at Burning Man in 2014:
Black Rock Beacon: A History of Deaths (2014)
Before this year, there were at least six deaths in Black Rock City. An additional number of Burners passed away after being evacuated.
The known deaths, reported by the Black Rock Beacon and other media or the Burning Man organization:
- 2011 – Erika Kupfersberger, cerebral hemorrhage.
- 2007 – Jermaine “Jerm” Barley, suicide by hanging.
- 2006 – Adam Goldstone, a DJ with a known heart condition, died in RV after fainting.
- 2005 – Sam Rich, a member of the fire-dancing group Controlled Burn, heart attack. Rich had sustained a head injury for which he was given stitches on Wednesday, the day before he died.
- 2003 – Katherine Lampman, run over by art car she was exiting.
- 2001 – A participant chose to run into a fire, according to the Afterburn probably the burning of Amazing Larry’s Lucky Seven Ages, the casino built into two large dice in the Deep Playa.
Among other event-related fatalities, an unidentified 52-year-old female Burner died in a Reno hospital after being transported from the Playa in 2010 because of an “unknown” medical condition, according to the Afterburn.
In 2005, a second Burner suffered cardiac arrest on the Playa and died that October after slipping into a coma in the hospital.
One fatality occurred from one of the two aircraft crashes in 2003. Barry Jacobs, the pilot of one of the planes, died after being hospitalized.
Two additional deaths in 2001 associated with the event included a Department of Public Works volunteer who died in a motor vehicle accident on the highway before the event and a second traffic fatality on Highway 447 during Exodus.
Michael Furey died in a motorcycle accident as the event was being set up in 1996.