Men leave questions behind after bridge jumps

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MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) — Choosing to take your own life is one of the most private choices a person can make. And for far too many, it's also the last choice they ever make.

The people who do it feel isolated, alone, unable to reach out for the help they need. Yet, for some, the private hell that drove them to end their life ends up playing itself out in public.

Three men in Muscatine and Louisa counties made such a decision in recent months. Perched on a bridge, they faced inner demons that literally drove them over the edge.

Two of those men will never be able to tell us why.

Unanswered questions abound after a suicide — one of which is why some choose such a public display of private pain?

The Muscatine Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1ubk52C ) that in December, Thomas Newcomb, 45, of Muscatine jumped from the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge. His body was found in March. In May, Michael Watson, 36, jumped from the County Highway 99 bridge near Wapello and was found three days later.

Last week, an unidentified 38-year-old man attempted to jump from the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge. His story had a happier ending. Muscatine police were able to talk him down. He was later taken to Trinity Hospital for a psychological evaluation.

The question of why these men decided to take their lives, or try to — and do so in a public place — remains a mystery. But they're not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control said suicide was the tenth leading cause of death for Americans in 2010, the most recent year nationwide suicide statistics are available. According to the state of Iowa, 381 Iowans committed suicide in 2012. From 2006-10, people aged from 45 to 64 had the highest rate of suicides reported, with men consistently and considerably at a higher rate than women.

Despite the number in suicides by jumping in recent month, this is one of the least common ways to complete suicide. In 2010, the CDC reported firearms were used for half of all suicides nationwide, with 19,392 reported. Poisoning and suffocation were the next highest on the list for a total of 38,364. Only about 7.5 percent of people who committed suicide did so by means other than poisoning, suffocation or firearm. An estimated 650,000 hospital visits related to intentional, self-sustained injuries were also reported.

Lt. Jeff Jirak of the Muscatine Police Department would not give the name of the officer who spoke with, and eventually talked down, the man who threatened to jump last week, but Jirak said that the officer did a great job.

Jirak said all police officers who complete training with the academy learn negotiation techniques and that these skills are used in almost all situations, whether it be domestic abuse, hostage-taking, a standoff or a suicide attempt. Last week's situation, said Jirak, had a positive outcome.

"The vast majority of people who choose methods of suicide that are almost guaranteed to succeed — like a gun to the head or a plunge from a high bridge — do so because they are losing a battle against major depression. These are the suicides that haunt and hurt worst of all, and that almost to a person are the most tragic," said Dr. Charles Raison, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, in response to the suicide of film director Tony Scott in 2012. Scott jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California.

Raison said the other major reasons people commit suicide are because they want to end persistent pain — such as terminal cancer — or for psychotic reasons that make no sense to the average person.

There are also those who attempt suicide not in the hopes of ending their life, but getting help. The two biggest reasons for attempted suicide, in his opinion, were to cry out for help or to control/manipulate a situation.

At this time, no information has been made public on whether any of the local men who took their lives were previously had suicidal tendencies or suffered any kind of depression. While there are cases when people don't exhibit any warning signs of suicide, approximately 50 to 75 percent of those who attempt it tell someone of their intent beforehand, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization's website lists the most frequently cited risk factors for suicidal tendencies: mental disorders — especially depression or manic-depressive disorder — family history of suicide, traumatic events, chronic pain and those who have attempted suicide in the past.

Whatever the reasons, however complicated they may be, it still comes down to one thing: Pain.

"Many people who died of cancer have written eloquently about how the crushing pain from their tumors paled in comparison to the pain they felt when depressed," said Raison.

"Severe major depression is probably the most unbearable pain a human being can withstand for any protracted period of time."

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Information from: Muscatine Journal, http://www.muscatinejournal.com

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