Suicides in Public Places Traumatic to Witnesses

After Eric Hall, his father and two teenage sons rescued a high school girl who had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge, they continued on their sailboat ride around San Francisco Bay but in a stunned silence, punctuated by brief conversations about the girl, how she was doing and the possible reasons for her jump.

”She’s the same age as my boys,” Eric Hall of Walnut Creek told me in an interview in April 2011. “We were just trying to get our heads around it.”

I recount this conversation as I wondered about the people who may have witnessed a young Concord woman take her own life by intentionally jumping from the third-floor patio at Nordstrom Thursday afternoon.
Walnut Creek police say the woman, identified as Jessica Almaraz, 29, was by herself when she jumped just before 2 p.m. Thursday. She landed near the sidewalk of South Broadway and Mt. Diablo Boulevard, police said. Almaraz was pronounced dead at the scene.

Were those who may have witnessed this young woman’s death traumatized in similar ways to Eric Hall and his family? It’s possible. In The Final Leap, his book about Golden Gate Bridge suicides, John Bateson, the former executive director of the Contra Costa Crisis Center, describes the emotional impact on the classmates of the boy who jumped from the bridge but survived. 

The class was visiting the bridge on a school field trip when the boy jumped. “While the jumper was being treated for broken bones, many of his classmates were in shock and needing mental health services. Undoubtedly, it will be a long time before they forget the horror they witnessed,” Bateson wrote. 

To suddenly watch someone try to take their own life can lead to degrees of emotional fall-out, ranging from bad dreams, to sleep problems, to depression that causes you to become isolated or to shut down emotionally. You might also be plagued by flashbacks of the event. This is according to Catherine Greenleaf, author of the book, Healing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide. On her blog, Healing from Suicide Grief, she writes: 

There are, unfortunately, instances in which a person dies by suicide in a public arena. If you have witnessed the suicide of a stranger in a public place, what should you do? Should you just continue on as you were before and brush the incident off? After all, you never met the person in question and don’t even know the person’s name. 

There is the time-worn adage, “a witness to violence is a victim of violence.” Suicide is a form of self-inflicted violence and witnessing a suicide, whether you know the person or not, can be extremely traumatic.

She advises witnesses who are experiencing any of the above symptoms to seek help from a therapist who specializes in bereavement. 

Meanwhile, if you or someone you know is struggling with feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, round-the-clock support, information and resources for help. The number is 800-273-8255. 

2 thoughts on “Suicides in Public Places Traumatic to Witnesses

  1. Dear Anonymous,
    I'm very sorry to hear that. My immediate thought upon hearing about this woman's tragic death is that people, out and about shopping in Broadway Plaza, would have witnessed it, and I wondered about the affect on them. I talked to someone a few weeks after witnessing a suicide, and they were still trying to process it.


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