Falls jumpers bring attention to suicide prevention

May 23, 2012

With two apparent suicide attempts in two days at Niagara Falls, mental health experts say more may be forthcoming.

Every year, a large number of people use the waterfall to kill themselves, with the attempt by a 40-year-old man on Monday one of the few where the jumper survived. Police say there are many suicide attempts at the Falls each year, but not all are reported.

Women are more likely to try to commit suicide while men are more likely to succeed, according to Carissa Uschold, a licensed clinical social worker and suicide prevention coordinator at UB. There is no way to predict suicides, Uschold says, but risk groups can be identified.

"In that moment people are thinking in absolutes, that this is the only answer. They've done studies with people who have attempted suicide and survived and what they've realized is the person is pretty ambivalent up until that moment. They maybe want that pain to go away, but they don't necessarily want to die. We really look it being a permanent solution to a temporary situation," Uschold said.

The coordinator says safety experts can make it more difficult by enclosing bridges like those over gorges in Ithaca on the Cornell campus, but Niagara Falls is harder because tourists want to get as close to the rushing water as they can.

"Sometimes there can be a contagion effect, which is why oftentimes the media or reporting agencies are cautious in how they do that, so it's important to really look at how we're reporting these stories which are certainly real-life events for people and also providing treatment and hope in disseminating that information," Uschold said.

Uschold says a university campus can be a difficult environment, with students from many places and many cultures under high stress on dark winter days and nights. Uschold says UB works hard on helping students or training other students to spot really troubled classmates or dormmates who see themselves as having few options.