In our opinion: Heroic act is a lesson on intervening with people considering suicide

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28 2013 6:19 p.m. MST

There are occasions when we witness someone doing something heroic and wonder if we are capable of the same kind of action.

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There are occasions when we witness someone doing something heroic and wonder if we are capable of the same kind of action. If a stranger attempted suicide by jumping from the top of a stadium concourse, how many of us could summon the spontaneous will to jump in front of the falling person, putting our life in jeopardy to save theirs?

The story of a 61-year-old Marine Corps veteran who did exactly that a few weeks ago resonates as a rare example of legitimate heroism – an ultimate act of unselfishness that reminds us that altruism lies at the heart of the human spirit.

There is another lesson in the actions of Donnie Navidad, who broke the fall of a woman who jumped 45 feet as crowds were filing out of the Oakland Coliseum after a November football game. It’s a lesson about the responsibility we innately share toward each other’s well being — that when someone has given up on their life, others have not.

It’s a meaningful lesson at a time when we suffer in Utah from a high rate of suicide, particularly among teenagers and young adults. The actions of Navidad are metaphorical testimony for what suicide prevention experts say is the most effective way to stop someone from taking their life – simply to intervene.

Navidad’s intervention came at the last moment. Who knows what opportunities there might have been for someone else to act on behalf of the woman whose troubles led her to the stadium perch? But there is ample evidence that awareness leading to some kind of intervention is the keystone of prevention.

It is the concept behind the law recently passed in Utah requiring schools to notify parents of cases of bullying, which is known to be a precursor to suicide attempts. Such notification is in essence an act of intervention. Similarly, a new prevention campaign in Utah includes efforts to educate parents about warning signs they may see in their child’s behavior so they may appropriately intervene.

The incident in Oakland is unusual only because of its setting and the result. Statistics show one-third of all teenagers have experienced suicidal thoughts. Every day in Utah, there are three suicide attempts requiring medical treatment involving 18-24 year olds.

The symptoms that foreshadow a suicide are often visible long before a final act is attempted. It was heroic for Navidad to do what he did. It is likewise heroic for all of us to act in whatever way we can so that we might break another person’s fall into a place of hopeless desperation.

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