WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, October 30, 2017) ––A 22-year-old woman lost her life this weekend after a 12-year-old boy landed on the car she was driving after he jumped from an Interstate 66 overpass in Fairfax County. Police officials on the scene believe the adolescent or pre-teen boy was attempting to commit suicide by leaping from the overpass to the interstate below. The tragic incident took place at the Cedar Lane overpass on I-66 at 4 p.m. Saturday. Although extremely rare, each year dozens of people attempt to kill themselves by leaping from overpasses across the United States, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic. Dozens of others are killed after jumping off bridges, tall objects, and landmarks.
While it remains what mental health advocates label a “highly taboo and stigmatized topic,” at least 12 persons reportedly died after jumping off overpasses and landing on the freeway below in the United States so far this year, calculates AAA Mid-Atlantic. The overall number of persons who killed themselves by jumping from overpasses and landmark bridges may be even higher. It is not known how many cases involved a history of suicidal attempts. In May, a man perished in an apparent suicide after leaping off the Severn River Bridge in Anne Arundel County, according to the Maryland State Police.
In other instances, police officers have rescued distraught persons threatening to commit suicide by jumping from interstate overpasses and even off iconic dual span bridges including the one spanning the Chesapeake Bay, namely the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge, which stands “186 feet tall at its highest point.” In May, emergency responders, Anne Arundel County firefighters and bystanders rescued a man threatening to plunge to his death from the eastbound Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Suicide by jumping is not a recent phenomenon. Even so, some research suggests “persons who jumped from bridges were younger than those committing suicide by other methods.” During 2015 alone, “44,193 Americans took their own lives and more than half a million Americans received medical care for self-inflicted injuries,” explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet jumping from overpasses, bridges, and from a height remains understudied both nationally and internationally.
In May, a 15-year-old Michigan teenager reportedly committed suicide after leaping off an overpass in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In June, a 16-year-old girl was injured after she jumped from a 20-foot-overpass onto a Florida turnpike. Her family said it wasn’t her first attempt to kill herself. Suicide is the “second leading cause of death among people aged 10-24,” explains the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). In fact, “suicide among adolescents and young adults is increasing and among the leading causes of death for those demographic groups,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Deaths from suicide are only part of the problem,” explains the CDC. “Many more people survive suicide attempts than actually die. In 2015, more than half a million people (505,507) received medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States.”
Such incidents are known as “jumping suicides.” Unfortunately, bridges and overpasses have become so-called “suicide magnets.” Some transportation officials say applying physical barriers to preclude jumping from landmark bridges and local overpasses could be impractical given the sheer number of such structures. They point out that “depression is the leading cause of suicidal behavior.”
On one hand, some researchers say “barriers on bridges may prevent suicides but also may lead to a substitution of jumping site or method.” On the other hand, other researchers argue: “survivors of suicidal jumps experience higher subsequent rates of suicide and mental ill health, but the majority do not go on to kill themselves, suggesting that preventive efforts may be worthwhile.” Prevention and intervention methods, studies show, include “installing physical barriers or otherwise restricting access to public sites that are frequently used for suicides by jumping.”
In a four-decade period from its opening in 1952 to 1995, “more than 75 persons” committed suicide after hurling themselves off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which spans “4.3 miles from tip to tip.” Three persons plunged from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Annapolis in 2011. Securing and erecting barriers on overpasses and bridges may save the lives of suicidal individuals and persons traveling on roadways below, some traffic safety advocates say.
To deter or prevent jumping suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, work crews are placing stainless steel nets below the bridge’s sidewalks with the goal of forming “suicide barriers.” Officials say more than 1,500 persons have died by leaping from the bridge over its “80-year-lifespan.” Last year, “39 people died jumping off the bridge.” Another study shows “every two weeks, on average, someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Reportedly, every 3.5 days a person deliberately traverses to the pedestrian walkway along the George Washington Bridge in New York City to attempt a jumping suicide by leaping off the iconic span. Eighteen persons committed suicide after leaping from the bridge in 2014, and police prevented 74 people from jumping, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Since 2006, 13 people have committed suicide after jumping off the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California. The bridge acquired the nickname the “Suicide Bridge” after “over 150 people plunged 150 feet to the ground below since 1919,” according to news reports. Since it opened in 1969, the Coronado Bridge in San Diego, “nearly 400 people have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge to their death.”
Each year in this country, “more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide” on average. Moreover, “from 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24%, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population, with the pace of increase greater after 2006,” cautions the CDC. Noted suicide mitigation recommendations for overpasses and bridges include building fences to limit access to possible and potential jump sites; erecting a safety netting around the structure; installing cellular callboxes and other communication devices to allow suicidal individuals to reach out for help; installing video cameras so emergency responders know the exact location of persons planning suicide by jumping; and, increasing patrols to discourage potential victims of suicide.
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