September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month and September 10 – 16 is suicide prevention week.  We have typically attempted to address suicide prevention measures in our posts honoring suicide prevention, but in this post we are going to honor those who have survived a suicide attempt.

Although a previous suicide attempt drastically raises the risk for committing suicide in the future, studies have shown that about 90% of people who survive their attempted suicide, do not end up killing themselves. Dr. Richard Seiden was a researcher in the 1970s who wondered what happened to the 515 people who came to the Golden Gate Bridge in the previous 35 years to commit suicide, but were prevented from doing so by the California Highway Patrol. He wrote an article on this, “Where Are They Now? A Follow-up Study of Suicide Survivors from the Golden Gate Bridge.” In his research, Dr. Seiden found something remarkable, that such a crisis is very often just temporary. Of those 515 individuals whose suicide attempt was prevented, 35 did go on to take their lives. Looking at other studies on the subject that may have been overlooked by other researchers, Dr. Seiden confidently concluded that 90% of the people who attempted to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, were clearly suicide survivors at that point, and they continued to go on living and did not kill themselves at a later date.

There are many different reasons why someone who attempts suicide might decide afterwards to remain alive. The most probable reason is that a crisis of suicide is, by its very nature, just temporary. Most of the time the crisis simply passes. Also, individuals who attempt suicide may end up receiving help from friends and family. They may also get help from doctors and therapists. And in time, their reasons for wanting to end their life may start fading. Problems are temporary.  Another possibility could be that the instinct to live might kick in once someone really approaches dying. Up to that point, that instinct could have been obliterated by stress, hopelessness, depression and/or despair.

Kevin Hines’ story demonstrates how strong the survival instinct is. This is the man that in 2000 actually did jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. Very few people would be able to survive this fall because the water is approximately 200 feet below, which would feel like concrete if you landed on it at such a high speed. Kevin said later that the second that he let himself go; he felt he’d made a huge mistake and that is when his will to live simply kicked in. He immediately struggled to turn his body upright before hitting the water, which prevented him from landing on his head. He lived to tell the story, and now as a suicide survivor he works as a national suicide prevention advocate.

Unfortunately, the instinctive will to live doesn’t always reassert itself in these cases. The truth is that as many as 10% of suicide survivors succeed at taking their lives at a later date. And more than 50% of those who do commit suicide, that act was their first attempt. National Suicide Prevention Week honors survivors of suicide.  Suicide is a terrible tragedy and the survival of those who attempt suicide is not guaranteed. Tragically, suicide sometimes does defy the best efforts to prevent it. But for the most part, suicide prevention efforts are not just an effort to delay death; these efforts can save lives and most often do. If you have survived a suicide attempt or are contemplating suicide, please reach out for help and call us to schedule an appointment.  What do you have to lose?

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