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“It wasn’t your time.”
October 9, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

The Jumper Squad. "Each year, the New York City Police Department receives hundreds of 911 calls for so-called jumper jobs, or reports of people on bridges and rooftops threatening to jump. The department’s Emergency Service Unit responds to those calls. Roughly 300 officers in the unit are specially trained in suicide rescue, the delicate art of saving people from themselves; they know just what to say and, perhaps more important, what not to say."
posted by zarq (39 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Midtown Manhattan or the financial district, for instance, pedestrians are more likely to yell, “Jump!”

What is wrong with people.
posted by fermezporte at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


This reminded me of one of my favorite NYTimes Magazine articles from a few years ago, The Urge to End it All. Brief summary: if you stop someone from committing suicide by one method, they are actually way less likely to ever go through with it (as opposed to the belief that they will "find a way").
posted by telegraph at 8:32 PM on October 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


How high up does it become an almost certain death? Like, versus being crippled or something else that's even more crummy.
posted by porpoise at 8:32 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This was fascinating. Thank you.
posted by ColdChef at 8:40 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


How high up does it become an almost certain death?

Before posting, I considered fleshing this out with additional links. Changed my mind because I thought they might detract from the main article. But I did find this article which might answer your question.
Selecting a 20th floor of a building ensures at least 60 meters height - a safe estimate employing only 3 meters per floor although office buildings have mostly around 3.5 meters per story. Falling down a height of sixty meters onto the deserted asphalt below gives one’s body a velocity of about 34 meters per second after 3.5 seconds [one hits the ground with v = (2 *60 m * 9.8 m/s2)1/2].

Air resistance can be neglected, because it is proportional to the square of the velocity, and the terminal velocity of a falling human body is faster than 54 m/s even with fully outstretched limbs (considering air resistance, the result is 31 m/s after 3.6 s instead).

Falls from a mere ten meters onto unyielding ground have already often deadly consequences, but 34 m/s, that are 76.2 mph or 122.4 km/h, are enough to immediately switch off and destroy one’s brain regardless of the body’s orientation at impact.

posted by zarq at 8:40 PM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘Yeah, things are bad and who knows if they can even get better,’ ”

What are you, 12? Jeez.

Here is the most important thing I learned about suicide when I was an EMT. Don't do it with over the counter painkillers. You will most likely destroy your liver and turn bright yellow for 2 weeks before dying.

Some emergency service workers will stay up all night talking about how they would do it after a call like that. I thought they were just BSing until one of 'em ran himself an antifreeze IV.

Anyhow, if you are going to kill yourself go ahead and make it look like an accident. That will be a lot easier for your family and friends.
posted by poe at 8:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


Having just today attended a memorial service for a friend who killed himself by jumping off a bridge (in California) I'm almost tempted to try to join a jumper squad... but only if I knew there was a rock-solid squad of therapists and counsellors that would take those I'd talked off whatever precipice and really really be able to get them on a better path in the future.

Miscellaneous : The Golden Gate.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:02 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Fatigue set in,” he said. “He was extending his arms to me, but I couldn’t reach him. At that point, he panicked a little bit, and that’s when he kind of groaned and said, ‘O.K.,’ and he left — fell.” Detective Taylor, who has worked in emergency services for 12 years, spoke in a low voice, pausing pensively between words.
It's terrifying to think about the amount of last words they carry with them.
posted by chinesefood at 9:24 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, zarq. It was a fascinating read, and humanizing of both police officers and those suffering from mental illness.
posted by graphnerd at 9:30 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a Canadian show called Flashpoint, that CBS airs as a fill-in, that deals with a police strategic response unit (in Toronto, though they don't say "this is Toronto," they just show Toronto landmarks). Among the things they deal with are high-profile suicides like jumpers, and it hews pretty close to what this article lays out. They show a lot of the psychological work that goes into that kind of policework, how talking people out of bad decisions is more important than chasing, tackling, and shooting, and they also show some of the aftermath of failed missions, both the immediate aftermath (police shrinks, being cleared for duty, how weapons are handled after a fatal police shooting and how the IA investigation goes) and in season-long arcs where the characters are psychologically working out a mission that went badly wrong.

It's still a mass-market police procedural, so there's a lot of terrorists and teenaged psychopaths and if that many situations in Toronto ended in police shootings every year, well, we'd hear a lot more about Toronto being hyper-violent. But it's more realistic than most shows of that type, more focused on the details and minutiae of the policework, not the sexy case-of-the-week, and the officers themselves are more varied (in age, in body type) than in most shows. The characters are a lot more nuanced than your standard-issue Law & Order cops, and the show intends to show people who are good at their jobs and committed to police work for the right reasons, but the ambivalence, burn-out, conflicts, and so on, that arise anyway. Anyway, if the article interested you, you might like the show as a fictionalized filling in of the details around that sort of policework.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:31 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Haunting. Thanks for posting this.
posted by mochapickle at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2012


Brief summary: if you stop someone from committing suicide by one method, they are actually way less likely to ever go through with it (as opposed to the belief that they will "find a way").

When Toronto added a suicide barrier on the Bloor Viaduct it failed to lower overall suicide rates, jumps at nearby bridges went up (news article, BMJ study).
posted by bobo123 at 9:45 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a Canadian show called Flashpoint,

Great show.
posted by Mojojojo at 9:51 PM on October 9, 2012


So many broken people. So much pain -
posted by growabrain at 9:52 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


In Midtown Manhattan or the financial district, for instance, pedestrians are more likely to yell, “Jump!”
What is wrong with people.


At a guess I would say that they are frustrated that a total stranger has very selfishly shut down their part of town for one of two reasons: 1) they honestly wanted to kill themselves but when they got up there they started having second thoughts and are unwilling come down and find a cafe to sort it out or 2) they are drama queens who never were going to kill themselves but just love having Manhattan closed on their account.

(In reality there is also the third case where someone has had a psycotic break and isn't really functioning, but that's not something your average person thinks of)

In any case a person's choice to threaten suicide in a way that affects millions of people does not always go as well as you would hope.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:56 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case a person's choice to threaten suicide in a way that affects millions of people does not always go as well as you would hope.

In fairness, that ended with the survival of the jumper. Could be worse.
posted by jaduncan at 12:06 AM on October 10, 2012


The opportunity to help people, affording them a second chance, feels like a privilege, said Detective Dennis Canale, of Emergency Truck 5 on Staten Island.

Indeed. What an honour.

I wonder how many of us have unwittingly had chances like that - surely once or twice? - and remembered to take them, or even noticed if we did take them in the wash up?

Or at least the smaller act of recognising the impact our love can have on someone.

To distill a moment of compassion, empathy, into something so rarefied and so... critical? would tremendously affirming I would imagine. I'm sure it would take a lot out of you, but who wouldn't give it for the reward of a life?

Thanks for linking, Zarq. A valuable reminder that every person is facing a battle, whether they're on a bridge or no, and a small gesture of recognition and reassurance can help turn the tide.
posted by smoke at 12:47 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many of us have unwittingly had chances like that - surely once or twice? - and remembered to take them, or even noticed if we did take them in the wash up?

I've think I've seen lives touched this way in AskMe fom time to time, but we'll likely never know.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:57 AM on October 10, 2012


I wonder how many of us have unwittingly had chances like that - surely once or twice?

It may not be quite what you mean, but I'm pretty sure I have failed people twice: a colleague who followed me into a shitty job; an old friend who developed a drink problem and had his life implode. Both killed themselves. I'm not eaten up with guilt or anything; I didn't behave badly at any point in either case - in a very small way I behaved well. But it is not pleasant to feel pretty sure that I could have said and done things for both these people that might well have helped: I did not say or do those things.
posted by Segundus at 2:34 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


How high up does it become an almost certain death?
From working in an ED in a city that has relatively few buildings over 20 stories tall I can tell you that anything under 5 is dependent on how you land, and anything over that is luck.

I've also done ride alongs with EMT and State Troopers, also in a city that didn't have these types of specialists. But there's an amazing amount of 'on the job training' that you get, so while someone trained in psychology definitely has an advantage over someone who's not, it's often just about someone who can have a relationship with people.

The general concept of 'getting inside someone's head' is often a misnomer, it's really just about bonding and reassurance. One time I was with an EMT who came upon a man with a gun pointed to his own head. Wasn't called in, just sorta driving along a backroad and saw him sitting on the bed of his truck.

I had no clue what to do... the EMT just jumped out and asked for directions to some place nearby. He started talking to the guy and ended up sharing his lunch with him.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:08 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘Yeah, things are bad and who knows if they can even get better,’ ”

What are you, 12? Jeez.


This - for me, anyway. While I'm sure these guys do a lot of good, if I was on a ledge and some psycho-normative cop started in with the positive psychology platitudes ... well, it'd probably be a strong reminder of why I was up there in the first place.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:09 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I think the case could be made that there are a lot of people in the financial district the universe would be better off without

More likely, it's those same people on the ground yelling at the guy to jump.
posted by eriko at 5:51 AM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


smoke, mochapickle, ColdChef and others, you're quite welcome.

And telegraph, thank you for linking to that article. The Bloor Viaduct exception notwithstanding, it's fascinating. Even the smallest impediment can make people stop and think, and perhaps prevent them from impulsively taking their own lives.
posted by zarq at 7:38 AM on October 10, 2012


Oh, man, I've met these guys!

My first girlfriend and I started dating on September 5th, 2001, long distance--she was in Chicago, and I was in a rent controlled apartment in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. On the 11th some terrorists flew a commercial jet into the financial district and managed to bring down the World Trade Center. The whole city was in a state of shock, as you can imagine.

I ended up walking home from work (downtown, near the Flat Iron Building) and stopped in a park on the way to have a long talk with her on the phone. I had never dated anyone before, and was trying to figure out whether I was truly in love. Presumably I was also in that same state of shock.

The next day, after having breakfast with the somewhat confused Australian tourists that were staying with me at the time, I went up to the roof of my building and called her again. We had another long talk, at the end of which I knew for sure that it was love! I got so excited that I began pacing back and forth, and then finally gathered my courage and shouted into the phone, "I love you! I love you!".

About seven minutes later I turned around to find the nicest, most grandfatherly policeman I had ever seen, along with three or four other uniformed cops. I was completely confused until he gave me a warm, understanding smile and said, "Is everything alright, son?". And then I realized how the situation probably looked to the neighbors, who could hear my shouting but couldn't hear what I was saying.

I was initially mortified. After all, the cops had enough to deal with on September 12th, they didn't need to waste their time talking down non-suicidal folks. But they were really nice about it, and told me that they really appreciated getting a call with such a happy ending.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


Blue_Villain:
How high up does it become an almost certain death?
From working in an ED in a city that has relatively few buildings over 20 stories tall I can tell you that anything under 5 is dependent on how you land, and anything over that is luck.
That makes a lot more sense than the "above 3 stories" pseudoscience quoted above. The human body is not a repeatable, controlled experiment.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:52 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you've ever been to Ithaca in upstate NY, you know that "Ithaca is Gorges", but those gorges plus stressed out Cornell / IC students make for a poor combination. Diane Ackerman wrote a book (A Slender Thread) about the Suicide prevention Crisis Hotline that is set in a thinly-fictionalized Ithaca.

That book was a beautiful and painful read, and reading this article makes me want to go back to it again.

(Also, in small-world connections, she mentions that Frank Drake, of the eponymous Drake equation to calculate the probability of existence of alien intelligences, volunteered as a counselor for the Hotline, and talking to him led her to volunteer there too, for a while. I can't even imagine dealing with that extra stress.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


> > Brief summary: if you stop someone from committing suicide by one method, they are actually way less likely to ever go through with it (as opposed to the belief that they will "find a way").

> When Toronto added a suicide barrier on the Bloor Viaduct it failed to lower overall suicide rates, jumps at nearby bridges went up (news article, BMJ study).

The Times article is reporting about the statical fact that if someone attempts suicide and is stopped, their chances of later trying again are reduced.

The Toronto result says that if you prevent people from making an attempt in one place, they might well make that attempt elsewhere. Not the same thing at all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Times article is reporting about the statical fact that if someone attempts suicide and is stopped, their chances of later trying again are reduced.

The Toronto result says that if you prevent people from making an attempt in one place, they might well make that attempt elsewhere. Not the same thing at all.


But often conflated.

Taken together, they seem to argue for the creation of suicide honeypots, places that people will be drawn to to kill themselves, but where it is easy for emergency responders to intervene. Put up cameras and hotlines, not high fences. Etc.
posted by grobstein at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The first time we went for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, we got about a third of a way across before the foot and car traffic came to a halt, and after a some minutes of confusion the fire trucks and ambulances sirened up, various people got out, and we could discern the guy on the opposite side, obviously threatening to jump. It was a bright-blue Sunday afternoon as I recall, so over the course of the next hour there must have been an audience of at least a thousand people, unable to leave the footpath even if they wanted to. Nobody said "jump," no car horns were honking even though in a jam like that it's second nature around here. After they finally made the grab, we saw him being wheeled away on a stretcher, apparently secured in a straightjacket, saying what sounded like "god bless you, you saved my life!" There was some mild cheering, and a little later the traffic began to flow again.

I occasionally wonder what all those people think now when, thumbing through the photo stream on their phone, they pass the pictures they were all madly taking that afternoon.
posted by chortly at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Taken together, they seem to argue for the creation of suicide honeypots, places that people will be drawn to to kill themselves, but where it is easy for emergency responders to intervene. Put up cameras and hotlines, not high fences. Etc.

Heh, funny, I was thinking the same thing as I went for a walk after writing that... perhaps places where it was "easy to jump but hard to kill yourself" - perhaps a concealed net?

I always loved that scene in M.A.S.H. where they "help" someone to commit suicide by getting him laid, putting him in a coffin, and then giving him a drug to "kill" him. Given the choice, perhaps a lot of us might "spend a year dead for tax reasons".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


These guys are total heroes.

Having spent time in (outpatient) psychiatric hospital treatment, in peer support groups, and in group therapy, and lived with serious depression for twenty-plus years, that's all I can say about them. Every encounter I've ever had with suicidal thinking, in myself or others, has been incredibly challenging and traumatic.

As a result, I spend a lot of my time passing out the BoysTown National Hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers, and have the second one on my fridge door and in my day planner just in case. It probably looks like I want to be super helpful, but it's mostly that I feel completely incapable of being helpful.

I could never, ever do that job. I am so, so, so grateful there are stronger people out there who can handle it, even if they can only manage to do it for a year or two.

Oh... and I've never met a single person who had a suicide attempt interrupted, who was sad they had "failed." Most have been very grateful to the police, paramedics, friends, family members, and strangers who rescued them.

I also keep those hotlines available for my own use, and avoid bridges and tall buildings. I've thought about suicide and death almost every time I've been in a tall building or near a bridge since the age of 10 or so. I am very glad for hotlines and CITs and the like. Because I really, truly, don't know if I might need them someday.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 2:18 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


poe: Anyhow, if you are going to kill yourself go ahead and make it look like an accident. That will be a lot easier for your family and friends.

This is unhelpful advice.

Think about it. Unless our suicidal person is very, very good at keeping everything bottled up inside, her friends and family know that she's in rough shape. They're going to suspect that her "accident" was fake but they're never going to know for sure, which is in some ways worse than knowing. Similarly, some suicide methods leave a body behind (nasty for whoever discovers it) and some don't (leaving survivors in perpetual doubt about whether their loved one is dead or bartending incognito in Mexico). There is no good way to commit suicide in our society.

Perhaps poe's strategy of making suicidal people feel really guilty about committing suicide makes sense as a deterrent, but it seems to me that piling more guilt on people who already have more than they feel they can live through is more than a little cruel. One last kick on the way out the door.

People are often suicidal due to grief or trauma or episodes of acute mental illness, and that's why we have suicide hotlines and jumper squads. That feeling that life is unlivable often goes away given time and treatment. It's often rooted in delusion. However, for some people things don't get better. Their subjective experience of life remains horrible despite receiving love and proper care. We have to consider the possibility that suicide might be a rational choice for such people. Perhaps the best we can say to family members in such cases is what we would say to family members of people who have suffered from any other terminal disease: at least she isn't in any more pain.*

* Something people said to me when my Mom died of cancer, slowly and painfully. It didn't really help, but what would?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:55 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I've thought about suicide and death almost every time I've been in a tall building or near a bridge since the age of 10 or so.

That's pretty normal. I'm not in the slightest suicidal, have never been, but when I'm up high, I always have that thought in the back of my mind - "What if I jumped?" - and it's a slight but constant effort not to have it occupy my thoughts.

I'd say about 20% of adults I've talked to this about are the same. I know I'd never do it, but the burden of choice preys on your mind...

What's funny is that it never happens when I've been on a plane, and I went rock climbing a couple of times and I had no such worries - possibly because I was actively trying to not fall rather than just hanging out.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:20 PM on October 10, 2012


"The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface. Elevator shafts, stair wells, unscreened windows and bridges will serve. Bridge falls into water are not reliable."

From “A Study of Assassination,” a training manual written by the CIA and distributed to agents and operatives at the time of the agency's 1954 covert coup in Guatemala.
posted by Relay at 4:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


> I've thought about suicide and death almost every time I've been in a tall building or near a bridge since the age of 10 or so.
That's pretty normal.


Actually it turns out it's not, and that it's a symptom commonly linked to depression.

Well, I guess as much as depression can be considered common you could consider regular thoughts of suicide common.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:07 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The phenomenon of yelling "jump" doesn't necessarily sound like psychopathy to me, only mob mentality. One angry bastard or feckless young troll gives the shout, and then dozens more, who were suppressing their irritability at an interrupted day, feel their tension relieved and shout it themselves. I'd like to know if there have been any studies done about this.

The comments section on this NYT article has a comment from a proponent of legalized suicide whose blog, Incompatible with Life, is . . . is . . . I don't know what it is. But it's fiercely written and makes for arresting reading.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:11 PM on October 10, 2012


Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Adults Aged ≥18 Years (CDC)
Results: Prevalence estimates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors varied by sociodemographic factors, region, and state.

During 2008-2009, an estimated 8.3 million (annual average) adults aged ≥18 years in the United States (3.7% of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year. The prevalence of having suicidal thoughts ranged from 2.1% in Georgia to 6.8% in Utah.

An estimated 2.2 million (annual average) adults in the United States (1.0% of the adult U.S. population) reported having made suicide plans in the past year. The prevalence of reports of suicide planning ranged from 0.1% in Georgia to 2.8% in Rhode Island.

An estimated 1 million (annual average) adults in the United States (0.5% of the U.S. adult population) reported making a suicide attempt in the past year. The prevalence of reports of suicide attempts ranged from 0.1% in Delaware and Georgia to 1.5% in Rhode Island.

The prevalence of suicidal thoughts, suicide planning, and suicide attempts was significantly higher among young adults aged 18-29 years than it was among adults aged ≥30 years.

The prevalence of suicidal thoughts was significantly higher among females than it was among males, but there was no statistically significant difference for suicide planning or suicide attempts.
(I added bold/italics for emphasis and broke up that insanely long and unreadable-to-me paragraph.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 5:07 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lifetime prevalence stuff is much more variable - I've seen estimates ranging from 1% to 20%; usually the upper bound is something like "they said they sometimes think about death, when we made the question seem like everyone thinks about death." It's also harder to get studies that do the whole population - most people seem to prefer subgroups like blacks or Latinos or immigrants or whatever; I feel like the Borderline Personality Disorder stats had better be the worst for lifetime prevalence, because the numbers are always in the 70-90% range (70% being the "attempt" rate; 10% is the often-cited, ickily-named "success" rate.)

Most of my friends that I've shown the Beck Depression Inventory to say they can't remember ever being able to answer anything other than 0 on the suicide question (I don't have any thoughts of killing myself) and I can't remember being able to say that honestly, ever. Admittedly, I can't really remember a time when I was definitely a 0 for any of the questions, except when I was hypomanic. I'm proud to say that it's been ten years since I was genuinely a 3 on the suicide question (I would kill myself if I had the chance.) Everyone I know personally who can currently endorse a 1 or better on the Beck for that question has a high enough score to qualify for a depression diagnosis.

(Yes, I did start asking my regular, not-met-through-the-hospital friends to fill out Beck Depression Inventories - it was in order to figure out how weird/hopeless I really was.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 5:19 PM on October 10, 2012


Most of my friends that I've shown the Beck Depression Inventory to say they can't remember ever being able to answer anything other than 0 on the suicide question (I don't have any thoughts of killing myself)

God, seriously? That is totally, sadly foreign to me.
posted by liketitanic at 2:22 PM on October 12, 2012


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