Franklin James Cook

Many People Affected When Suicide Is in Public

In Grief on October 26, 2008 at 9:39 pm

ORIGINAL STORY — Journalist Mike Wagner, in a well written but troubling piece in the Columbus Dispatch titled “The collateral damage of public suicide,” looks at the immediate effect one man’s suicide has on a handful of people who were touched by it.

A woman who implores the victim not to jump the instant before he pulls himself over a railing and falls to his death “quickly blames herself for not approaching him sooner.”

The collateral damage from a suicide begins immediately and spreads far beyond family, especially in a case like this. While relatively rare, public suicides have a profound and lasting effect on witnesses pressed into an anguished bond with a stranger.

Wagner tells the story of a 46-year-old man who dies by suicide, and in the telling, uncovers poignant moments experienced by people who were on the scene as well as reactions of the man’s mother and brother.

Professionals such as [Rick] Baumann [of the North Central Suicide Prevention Services in Columbus] who deal with suicide believe that some choose public settings to take their lives in hopes that someone will talk them out of it.

“These are people typically dealing with intense psychiatric pain,” Baumann says. “They are incapable of thinking outside of that pain.”

The stranger who spoke to the man just before he jumped continued to be troubled “weeks after the tragedy.”

[Her] daydreams drift toward the image of [the man] lunging over the railing and her screams that followed. Her mind rewinds those scenes nearly every day.

“I didn’t know this gentleman from Adam,” [she] says. “But I’ve thought more about him than people I’ve known for years.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: SPNAC makes every effort to follow the guidelines offered by “Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media,” an authoritative overview of the relationship between media coverage of suicide and the possibility of suicide contagion or clusters. However, we occasionally encounter an article that has great merit even though it does not strictly adhere to the guidelines: That is the case with this post. FJC

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