Suicide Watch

A man committed suicide in Telford recently. He jumped off the ledge of a multi-story car park and it was in the news because eye-witnesses reported an excited bunch of onlookers, mobile phones held ready, urging him to jump: ‘Go on, do it – jump!’ There were other taunts as the man, in his forties, stood on the building’s ledge for more than two hours, as police tried to talk him down. ‘Get on with it!’ shouted some, while others chanted, ‘How far can you bounce?’ At 3.40pm he did jump – his death filmed on phones and quickly posted on social media.
Suicide baiting is not uncommon. Dylan Yount, for instance, killed himself in San Francisco in 2013. A crowd of a thousand watched, shouting ‘Jump, jump, jump!’ – and they cheered when he did and then posted it all online. One onlooker compared it to the excitement of being at the circus, watching a high wire or trapeze artist; then there’s simple the curiosity that accompanies death – as when we pass an accident, slowing down to gaze with twisted concern at the wreckage.
Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women; and the suicide rate peaks between 20 – 24, when people are starting out on life, but carrying a large bag of undealt with emotions from childhood. If things don’t go well in this brave new world – pressure at work, relationship issues, loneliness/isolation, a lingering history of sexual abuse…then the young male, trapped inside himself, is very vulnerable.
People who feel suicidal often report a certain kind of tunnel vision, of being unable to see the broader picture; they’ll think in terms of black and white, no shades of grey. In such circumstances, the individual may not be motivated or able to seek out help for themselves – and it falls on others to offer support by listening, encouraging… and sometimes challenging the preconceptions that people hold about themselves, concerning their abilities and value in the world.
Unfortunately, though, just when people need this support, they often don’t find it. And sadly, I can feel this lack of concern in myself. Self-pity and self-absorption – such necessary traits in any suicide jumper – are not attractive characteristics in me; indeed, my moralising self is appalled by them. And if I hate myself for these things, I’ll probably hate them in others too. I’ll be tempted to ridicule them, despise them: ‘Go on, do it – jump!’
It’s good to notice that the states of self-pity and self-absorption are sometimes where we find ourselves. It’s not glorious but it happens when our world – our small and infinitely fragile world – has fallen in. We’re probably there for a moment every day, when for a few seconds – or a few hours – we simply cannot see beyond the (imagined) ruin.
We’re not beautiful in such a state. But then like an animal caught in a trap, we’re in pain – and the inner scream is quite deafening. If we find ourselves on a ledge in such circumstances, the self-hate of the crowd projected onto us, might just be the final straw.
In one sense, there’s no way back for the one who stands on the ledge, for life cannot be re-written, the ink is dry. But life can be reinterpreted, seen in a new light, which is why there’s always a way forward – a way which may well start with talking about our feelings in a safe and insightful setting.
We don’t have to jump, this could be a beginning – whatever the mobile-phone waving onlookers scream.