‘JESUS CHRIST!’ was the only thing I could splutter out in shock, as I peered up through the windscreen at a figure teetering on the edge of the motorway bridge above us.
It was a dark, cold evening in the depths of winter. As we travelled down the carriageway, we were running a little late; one of those tiny annoyances that seems like the end of the world at the time, until something genuinely serious shakes you out of it.
We were just minding our own business, going about our day, completely unaware that someone nearby – a complete stranger – was so utterly helpless and desperate that they felt they couldn’t go on any longer.
Somebody was with him. A good Samaritan. Thank goodness. He was behind him, guiding his tentative baby steps along the outer ledge of the bridge, and helping him to clamber carefully over the railings to get him back to safety.
From the brink, back to life.
We passed under the bridge safely. Initially, we thought nothing more of it. (Neither of us wanted to think about the worst-case scenario.)
We convinced ourselves that it was just a pair of kids messing about. That seemed like a far more innocent explanation, somehow.
On our return journey, it became obvious that it was far more serious than that.
He was still on the bridge. Desperate to end his suffering.
There was a police car blocking the road over the bridge, blue lights illuminating the crowd that was beginning to form.
Some of them were loving the excitement of something ‘different’ happening on their Saturday evening.
Revelling in the pain of another; nothing but a spectacle to them. Well, it’s more exciting than X Factor… (This is in the same city where a poor teenage boy leapt to his death from a shopping centre after the crowd below coldly taunted him, urging him to jump; as if it were nothing more than a joke to them. So, I can’t help but feel that in amongst the growing crowd of good Samaritans, was the odd vulture, callously indifferent towards the Man on the Bridge. Loving the ‘excitement’ and the drama of witnessing a stranger on the brink.)
The bridge itself was on our route home, and a passerby told us we’d have to turn around. They were stopping traffic on the carriageway below too because the man on the bridge couldn’t be easily moved.
So, we turned around and went a different way home; breathing a sigh of relief that the worst didn’t happen to us, or to him.
Things are never as bad as they seem, and you will feel better. I hope he knows that. I hope that’s what the good Samaritan told him, or the policeman.
I really, really hope that man gets the help he needs. I hope that he isn’t just turfed out onto the streets because there aren’t the resources to care for him. I hope he gets better, and that he receives the care needed to enable him to see the light at the end of the tunnel again.
Later that night, I kept scouring news apps and searching social media to see if he was mentioned. If he was safe. There was nothing. Radio silence. Cold British indifference strikes again.
I really felt the need to know that he was getting the support he so clearly, greatly needed. I needed to know he wasn’t going to end up in the same place again the next night, the next week, the next month.
Because it’s all too easy for us to forget that people are struggling. To tut loudly and mutter under our breaths that people should ‘man up’ or ‘get a grip’ instead of offering a much-needed hand of support or some kind words.
‘Everybody’s fighting a battle that you know nothing about.’ And they are. We are.
It’s so trite, but true.
We’re so preoccupied with our own lives, our own catalogue of worries, that we often brush the desperation of others aside. That’s their problem. Not ours.
It’s British stoicism to a tee, but it’s doing us damage not to talk about things. To stay silent and let the stigma carry on. To continue letting many people suffer.
So many of us have been touched by suicide, but it’s still such a hard topic to broach.
As a nation, we’re not good at emotions. We’re not good at talking about anything deeper than the weather. We’re not good at caring enough about anyone other than ourselves.
And that needs to change.
After the initial shock wore off, my emotions suddenly turned to anger. ‘He could’ve killed us.’ I postulated to my Mum down the phone after we’d turned around at the cordon.
Horrific images of a body crashing through the windscreen of my Dad’s car plagued my mind for hours afterwards. A shattered windscreen, the sound of screeching tyres and skid marks left on the carriageway, and in amongst the carnage, three body bags being taken away as crash investigators sigh about the mess we’ve made for them to clear up.
Then, once the anger had worn off, I just felt so sorry for him – The Man on the Bridge. He was only a fleeting figure, a hooded man in dark clothing, on a dark night, standing on a motorway bridge. I saw him for mere seconds, but he still had a profound effect.
We’re in dire need of change. As a society, as individuals. We need to take suicide more seriously.
We need to talk. We need to reach out. We need to be sympathetic, and patient, and kind.
And for all the insensitive, ignorant, and obdurate individuals who think that what he did was selfish – With any luck, you’ll never know the agony and mental anguish that pushed him to such desperate measures. Educate yourselves, and try to muster up some compassion, please.
It’s not an easy subject to talk about, but that doesn’t mean that we should keep burying our heads in the sand.
It was serendipitous that we were delayed slightly that night. That we were passing under the bridge when help in the form of a supportive member of the public had already arrived. Thankfully, the worst didn’t happen, not then anyway.
But it still happens to thousands of people every year.
And that’s thousands too many.
I wrote the majority of this post back in January or February as soon as it happened. On my phone, before we even arrived home. I didn’t know whether to publish it or not, so I sat on it for a few months. But after this recent harrowing Coronation Street storyline and the fact that it was Mental Health Awareness Week last week, it seemed like a more appropriate time to discuss this undoubtedly difficult subject.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling please get help. Go to A&E, call 999, see your GP, call Samaritans on 116 123, get in touch with CALM, speak to a loved one. You don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. Help is out there, and things will get better, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.
There’s also a list of various helplines available on this page.