Jumping to Death Prompts Locals to Search for Answers
For several decades, Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge directly correlates with love and beauty for our city. Although, the truth behind the dangers of this long-lasting bridge should make us question, “Bridge to the lakefront, or bridge to death?”
Though not spoken about as much as it should be within newspaper coverage, the term “jumper” is frequently used by police to identify a person who plans to jump from a deadly height, knowing that has the potential to end their life or escape. Locals should shift our attention to the reason why people choose to jump from a favorited structure that was developed to encourage safe travel.
To understand why people would make the decision to fall to their death, Suicide Assessment Consultant Jeffrey Garbelman offers his insight as a resource living and working in Madison, Wisconsin, his closeness to the Greater Milwaukee area was a big help in understanding why residents in Wisconsin choose to commit suicide.
Garbelman is certified by the American Association of Suicidology in Psychological Autopsy, which is the scientific study of manner of death. This explores the retrospective study which seeks to answer the reasoning behind a person’s purposeful death, along with the reason for the manner of death.
“I have trained and consulted at dozens of hospitals, clinics, and other settings,” Garbelman said. “My primary focus has been pragmatic suicide risk assessment, documentation, and the law – helping professionals improve outcomes and avoid or minimize litigation.”
The targeted suicide locations could be thoughts of as “clusters.” According to Garbelman, “these suicide clusters often occur in locations which become meaningful symbolically or otherwise to those in distress and thinking about suicide. An example is the Golden Gate Bridge. There are excellent articles about the extensive steps they have had to take to construction, monitoring, and such to counter this ritualized location for suicide.”
The reoccurring suicide that occurs at the Hoan Bridge proves that this site could, in fact, be symbolic for those who choose that this as their end-of-life point. Although, the unfortunate truth reveals that it is too late to find out the real reasoning.
“Locations with ritualistic places to die often derive their meaning as a place to die from TV movies or the media,” Garbelman said. “The Hoan Bridge is not special in means of being super extra lethal or something. Guns do that just fine. There are other bridges – we have a lake, tall buildings, police assisted suicide. So why the bridge?”
Chair Member of Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee agrees with the theory of ritualistic suicide locations.
“ There are certainly geographic ‘suicide hotspots,’” Moser said. “The most famous example is the Golden Gate Bridge. People certainly travel there specifically to end their life. ” Says Barbara Moser
Research continuously shows that we may not know why people choose the locations they do to jump, but we can clearly identify a pattern.
“We find suicide clusters and locations often start to develop a sense of meaning as they are shared across social media or news accounts,” Garbelman said. “These clusters are very difficult to stop.”
No matter the state, the city, or the specific location, the “why?” of suicide is a never-ending question that cannot be definitively answered. When researching suicide, and specifically jumping, one can find articles of what it is, how it happens, where it has occurred, and what people have done to stop it. However, it’s difficult to determine why somebody would choose to jump to their death.
Travis Pipes, a current NFL Sportswriter and recovering addict who has worked to overcome suicide, pointed out the importance of the lack of comprehension of suicide.
“In Milwaukee, I am part of the demographic that no one wants to talk about,” Pipes said. “As a county, we need to do more for crisis prevention.”
Few studies prove that we can definitely understand why people choose to complete suicide, but crisis prevention training can minimize the reason why people would need to find out.
“I have trained hundreds of police officers and correctional officers and work as a crisis-hostage negotiator.” Said Garbelman. “I have had people kill themselves in front of me, I have seen dozens harm themselves in prisons, and been there to see people make the decision to live.”
Garbelman points out that everyone has a different story, a different upbringing, and a different thought process. One of the hardest things about working with suicidal patients could be the fact that you may never know why they want to do it, or how to say to them when they feel like it is their only option.
“The stories are all different. Anybody who says they know the secret or say you should always do this or that is wrong and dangerous,” Garbelman said.“Sadly, sometimes the best intervention and best intentions are not enough … sometimes a truly mediocre effort is enough—- to spend a career working with chronically suicidal people is to be prepared to know that what I do may not be enough —— and to go home or leave a scene not knowing what will happen. Hospitalizations are awful, and yet they are often all we have.”
Garbelman said the simplistic act of listening, and how having at least one person to talk to, is a remarkable protective factor against suicide. If there is the slightest concern that a friend or other is having these thoughts it is imperative to ask. It is believed by some that by asking a loved one if they are thinking of suicide, you will not introduce the idea of suicide to them and cause their death. However, this does not influence their suicidal decisions.
Barbara Moser adds to this idea in explaining that suicide is not contagious. Rather than introducing the idea to them if they weren’t necessarily thinking of it, it actually reminds them that you care, which is exactly what a suicidal individual may need from you.
Pipes, a former suicidal individual, said “life is all about relationships.”
“You need to find people who will be sympathetic in your process,” Pipes said. “For example, if you ask people who they’re doing, find out why they’re great (or not great).” Asking and listening, rather than judging, is important to help vulnerable individuals feel safe. Yet, it is very hard to make them feel as though you truly are not judging. A painful conversation could result in the avoidance of a terrible death, and it is crucial to search for the “why” behind a person’s reasoning before they are gone. Search for statements about their thoughts of suicide by listening for who, what, when, where, why, how, etc.
As Moser spoke to Mount Mary Journalism students about her experiences with suicide contemplation, particularly when it comes to college students.
A helpful exercise took place, for the situation of not only what to do when you believe someone may be thinking about suicide, but also how to generally understand the factors that play into it, or the “why”. Question. Persuade. Refer. (QPR) is an interactive training written by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D. and presented by Barbara Moser, who encouraged the journalists to understand the depths of suicide.
When investigating the factors of suicide, she informed that accessibility plays a large factor in suicide and the way in which people complete this act. For example, military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may end their lives through the use of a firearm. This is because of their accessibility to the weapon, and their familiarity with using it.
Though not confirmed, this could mean that people who make the decision to jump, do so because of their proximity to it, or knowledge of the process of how it can be done.
In general terms, Barbara presented a document created by the QPR Institute that is used to train individuals to “Ask a Question, Save a Life.” She highlighted additional reasons for suicide, such as loss of freedom, crisis in relationships, career loss/layoff, mental illness, trouble with the legal system, homelessness, and the feeling of acting as a burden to loved ones.
Pipes used his own experience of suicidal thoughts and reminded students that “there are other things that fall into the contributions of suicide. Drinking, relationships, addiction to suicide, shopping, gambling, drugs.” Components relating to mental health all go hand-in-hand with suicide contemplation.
During her years working in suicide prevention, Moser explains how the reasons people want to die from suicide are complex and have many contributing factors.
“The best explanation I have heard is a person explaining the excruciating and constant psychological pain they are experiencing, and that they just are unable to hang on to life any more, and attempt to take their life.” Said Moser. “A person chooses a method for different reasons-availability of the method, fears they may have (of pain, of suffering), they may think that one method is less painful than another. People also become desensitized to certain means –persons having served in the military become used to handling and using firearms. I’m sure there are many other reasons as well.”
The focus should not necessarily be on the reason why people commit suicide, but the way in which we, as compassionate human beings, can assist in suicide prevention through active listening and empathetic speaking. Typically, our society is reactive in the sight of trauma, which means that we do not put forth enough focus on the people who need help until it is too late for them.
“Garbelman says “Stories about suicide can also be stories of hope, perseverance and love. The resiliency to reach out for help, to find a way to survive, and for us to make time for others.”