blue light decreases suicides on train platforms

Japanese Train Platform - blue LED light

As a lighting nerd for close to 20 years, I’m personally disgusted at the lighting industry’s numerous dubious claims for the health benefits of blue light. I’m equally disgusted at the sensationalist claims about blue light’s possible negative health effects from various research groups outside of lighting. The reality is that there is very, very little scientific research to back either side.

So I was quite happy to see a real example: The installation of strategically positioned blue LED lights on Japanese train platforms helped reduce suicides 84%. The claim is mentioned in a CityLab article detailing the behavioral “nudging” practiced in Japan’s public transit stations. The original research paper can be found in the Journal of Effective Disorders.

I will let the real scientists review the veracity of the research, but at least it is something a little more believable than buzzword-laden social-media marketing posts.

According to the CityLab piece:

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among OECD nations, and often, those taking their own lives do so by leaping from station platforms into the path of oncoming trains, with Japan averaging one such instance each day. It is a brutal, disruptive end that can also wreak havoc across the transit system.

[…] Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant, deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels are designed to save lives.

Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are strategically located at the ends of each platform—typically the most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to platforms.

It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year period shows an 84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed no corresponding increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such lights.

The idea has been picked up in the U.K.: Several stations in England now emulate the Japanese approach, with blue LED light panels on station platforms.

I found one YouTube video that shows an example of the lights: