it’s worth noting that burning man’s staff suicides are almost exclusively out of one department — the Department of Public Works (DPW) — which is comprised of a combined workforce of roughly only 500 workers. it is the department that does the hardest, most blue collar construction functions of building and then removing the infrastructure of the event.
suicide at the event staff is not a burning man problem at large. it is a DPW problem almost exclusively. amortizing the suicide statistic across the broader staff/volunteer population dangerously belittles an incredibly serious problem that is far more localized than this article and it’s attendant math suggest.
the vast majority of burning man staff only live in the desert for 7–14 days. the DPW, on the other hand — has the longest on-the-ground presence of the event cycle. aside from maintaining a skeleton staff on burning man’s ranch in gerlach year round — the DPW is first in / last out. a great many of the DPW work as long as 4 months in the desert. as any one who has been to burning man can tell you — a mere 7 days in the black tock desert can be an incredily physically and emotionally taxing experience. DPW staff experience as much as 16 times that duration.
it is further complicated by the fact that the longer one’s DPW contract runs — the less likely there is a job waiting for that person back in the real world — and the people that tend to have the ability to drop everything to go live in a remote desert construction site for months at a time tend to to have very little to drop to begin with.
what that creates is a subset of burning man’s workforce that tends to be more housing and income insecure vastly beyond those that simply utilized their 2 week annual vacation from an otherwise stable job to come volunteer for the event.
many of the DPW staff can experience an incredibly harsh adjustment period following the event. working for burning man long term is much like a military deployment in so far as one’s shelter, food, and social position (along with its attendant amenities) are completely maintained by the event. virtually none of the DPW staff is being paid enough to provide any financial padding to last beyond much more than a couple weeks following the event. going from a highly communal enviornment where food, shelter and booze were free, and one’s societal usefullness is at a peak to a world where everything suddenly isn't, minus an immediately present support network, and facing sudden housing and income insecurity is absolutely the cheif driver of suicide amongst the DPW staff.
if you want to address this issue — then its important to understand where it comes from.
you are right. burning man does not have a suicide problem
but burning man’s department of public works absolutely does.