How long do suicidal people wait before jumping off bridges?

A recent article about the Golden Gate Bridge and its high number of 2013 suicides (46) got me thinking about possible interventions. And a couple of questions came to mind…

Do must jumpers stand on the sidewalk or sit on the railing for some period of time before jumping or do they simply walk along the sidewalk and jump without hesitating? Is there an average wait time before jumping? Any law enforcement officers here who have experience viewing footage from bridges?

I’m interested in time-related trends generally from bridge jumpers, not necessarily specific to the GGB.


There was a documentary about that (which showed actual jumpers…jumping). It seemed like it wasn’t more then a few minutes. It typically wasn’t long enough for emergency personnel to show up.
ISTM, it’s about long enough for them to muster up the courage to actual make the jump.

I’m almost positive you can find the relevant parts on youtube or the website for the movie.

Looks like the documentry is called The Bridge and the entire thing is on youtube. There’s also clips of people jumping (one compilation is called “Breaking Point” ) but I think it’s just clips from the movie.

It’s probably difficult to analyze - the data on jumpers will be self-selecting for those who don’t wait long. People who wait long enough for someone to intervene or to change their mind are less likely to jump.

There’s also people that:
A)Aren’t planning to jump and waiting for someone to ‘talk them down’ (for any number of reasons).
B)Are planning to jump but hoping someone talks them down.

The first group isn’t going to jump, the second group will take longer to jump (if they do). Both of these are going to skew the results…well, sort of. I supposed if all you want is raw data you have to count that in, right.

Not counting the mezzanine.

It’s also on Netflix, last time I checked. Fascinating documentary, albeit sad and rather disturbing.

The filmmakers set up a camera to film the Golden Gate Bridge 24/7, and while they did contact authorities immediately if they saw someone was likely to jump, the cameras weren’t always manned. Of particular note, towards the end of the film, was a young gentleman who paced back and forth on the sidewalk as if he were merely enjoying the view. The cameraman filmed him only because there was nothing else going on – and when the man suddenly, without hesitation, climbed up on the railing and jumped, it caught everyone by surprise.

Since the movie, the city of S.F. did propose building an anti-suicide safety net, but I believe it was cancelled due to budget cuts.

That’s what they said but when I watched it, I remember for some reason, not 100% believing that. I mean, I’m sure they did for some of them, but if everyone of those people got stopped, they’d have nothing to show after years of shooting. OTOH, I’m the one who said that a lot of these happen faster then the cops can show up. So maybe they did.

Also (and you mentioned it yourself), it can be hard to know who’s just looking over the side and who’s going to leap over the rail and they can’t call the cops on everyone.

The Sunshine Skyway bridge outside St Pete, FL actually has suicide crisis phones at the top of the bridge. I do not know how often they have been used.

This falls into the category of “I read this somewhere”, but I read (somewhere) that one of the signs of a potential suicide is when a person looks down. It’s normal for people to pause on a bridge and look off into the distance, especially in a scenic area like the Golden Gate. But very few people look down for any length of time, unless they’re contemplating suicide.

Hmmm, I’ve walked across the GG Bridge many times, and I love looking down - at the boats passing by, at the currents swirling around the pilings, at the surfers off Fort Point. Little did I realize how many emergency calls I was generating.

The Golden Gate Bridge has these too, does it not?

Yes, they are quite common for any bridge that tends to attract jumpers.

In the documentary the bridge at least one of the suicides told stories (to friends before he jumped) about how in the past when he would hang out at the train tracks or on a bridge thinking about jumping a cop would stop by because they seemed to know the person’s intent. I would assume something like that happens thousands of times a year (where a cop or a passerby recognizes a person is contemplating suicide) and intervenes but I don’t know any stats.

I believe few people just approach a jumping off point and proceed to jump right away. (Based upon a dozen years as a police crisis negotiator.)

In addition to the good points mentioned above, two more reasons why it is hard to be certain are: we almost never know how long they were at that point (or nearby), and, many people fall accidentally so we can’t know how long they might have otherwise waited and which way they would have decided. (This is based more on people who jump from some place not caught on camera.) In addition, it’s pretty scary contemplating the jump and we don’t know how many people considered it and then decided not to jump ever and even how many who did jump were there on another occasion and left without jumping.

There is a behavior I’ve been trained to consider as a sign of imminent jumping: dropping items and watching them fall. From videos I’ve seen and lectures I’ve heard, if someone is at that point, they seem to go into an almost trance-like decision state and usually jump quite soon after.

Regarding the movie The Bridge, it is an amazing movie on many levels.

I don’t think it’s easy to tell. I think most people that commit suicide aren’t deranged or disturbed or would do anything that would attract too much attention. It does take some nerve to muster up - and some people like the guy in the documentary might look overly contemplative. I don’t know.

I don’t think I saw the documentary (unless it also included parts about this forest in japan), but I saw something on the topic (including the documentary mentioned - I remember the name and premise being mentioned)- and the thing I will never forget was - I don’t remember the number - it may have been four, but when the police/doctors/researchers - whoever - interviewed the ones that survived (an obviously very small number) - I believe ALL OF THEM - thought “this is a mistake” or something along those lines - while they were falling. Although I think one of them may have ended up doing it again - this time being successful.

I thought I had read that the nets were not put up for aesthetic reasons, but I don’t remember for sure.

I just watched a Dutch documentary called Mothers don’t jump off buildings. The mother in question had done the contemplating on the ledge many times before and when her family finally ended up giving her permission she went right over and apparently jumped immediately.
(The documentary was an appeal to allow euthanasia in cases of unbearable psychological suffering, because, as they put it, mothers don’t jump off buildings. I wish I could tell you to watch it, it was very thought-provoking. Unfortunately it’s all in Dutch.)

So sometimes the contemplating might have happened at another time and the person might be quite sure of what they want to do. She even took a crate as a little step onto the ledge.

There was an interesting article in GQ about a man who patrols the Yangtze River bridge in Nanjing looking for potential suicides. He claimed “they jump the second they think they’re over the mother river”.

The documentary focused on this guy

He thought about it and paced for about 90 minutes and then jumped up on the rail and just sort of allowed himself to fall.

I still think about him.

In the 1981 Niven and Pournelle novel Oath of Fealty, there’s a huge arcology built in L.A. It becomes a magnet for suicidal people.

The staff eventually puts a diving board on the roof for jumpers - it appeals to their sense of the absurd, and channels suicide wannabes to a single point. If they jump off the diving board, motion sensors trigger a net below which catches them, safe and sound.