A person jumped from a St. Paul bridge and survived

There’s not much anyone can really say about a short story in the Pioneer Press today other than, “what’s your story?”

A person tried to kill himself on Wednesday afternoon, using an effective method around here: jumping from one of the bridges of downtown St. Paul and into the Mississippi River.

Few people ever survive.

He survived.

Understandably, police can’t reveal much more about the plunge from the Robert Street bridge other than to congratulate a tow boat operator and all of those who responded to save him and absent any other elements of the story, it becomes a story of good people doing good things.

The problem, of course, is that’s not the story. The story is what led a 31-year-old man to reach the level of despair, climb onto the bridge railing, and jump?

Why was this his only choice? Did he seek help and, if so, why didn’t he get it?

I hope he tells his story but there’s no indication this is ever going to be a probability. But it’s not as if there’s a shortage of stories surrounding the mental health system in Minnesota to give us enough information to know it needs to be better.

Coincidentally, his plunge came on the same day The Commonwealth Fund released a report showing a third of children needing mental health treatment in 2016 didn’t get it, and that 66-percent of adults with symptoms of mental illness received no treatment between 2013-2015. In Minnesota, 44 percent of adults didn’t get the help they needed.

Last weekend, I attended the annual fundraiser for the Minnesota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and, as is custom, a beneficiary of help and information spoke about her experience, joined by her mom.

Her body language said she wanted to be anywhere but on a stage, and, yet, there she was sharing her story of being a college student who suffered a mental health crisis, who finally got help at Regions Hospital. Her mom explained that first she spent 24-hours in a locked basement room before getting the care she needed.

Appropriately, they both got a standing ovation for their courage, leaving the obvious question hanging in the air for the rest of us: Why does someone in crisis need to spend 24-hours in a locked room before getting help?

We know why and — as NAMI-MN (disclaimer: my wife serves on the board) points out constantly — we know what works. And, yet, we pretend we don’t. Information we’ve got; it’s courage to do something other than what we’ve always done that we lack.

Still, it was nice to hear a story of what passes for success. It isn’t always the case.

Last year, the scheduled speaker didn’t show up. Unbeknown to us at the time, he was dead.

Jeffrey Asfahl, 52, of Ramsey, Minn., had jumped into the Mississippi River from the I-35W bridge one year ago today.

  • Veronica

    Maybe NAMI should re-evaluate the level of stress caused (probably unintentionally) by asking people who aren’t mental health professionals to speak at their big gala.

    • Have you ever met anyone with NAMI? There’s some innuendo in your comment that’s at best, unpleasant.

      • Veronica

        The better way to get at my point would be to question if mental health professionals could foresee that, in my experience, people should already be talking about their mental health challenges publicly before being asked to speak at a large event. Maybe there is a lot of vetting, but that’s a huge ask for someone who hasn’t talked about their experiences before.

        The couple of NAMI interactions I had over the years were perfectly fine. I have had experience with an adjacent group that did some things that weren’t awesome. The innuendo was unfairly harsh.

      • guest

        I don’t see any “unpleasant” innuendo in that comment. It’s a factual observation that public speaking causes stress, and a reasonable suggestion that individuals affected by mental illness may be less able to protect themselves by declining an ask to speak, and also unable to tolerate the anxiety of delivering the talk. In fact, your piece above makes specific reference to the discomfort shown by one of the peer speakers at a NAMI event.

        I am professionally familiar with NAMI–they do a great job and I am sure are careful to vet their peer speakers for experience and comfort level. However, I don’t see a problem with the reminder that mental health organizations should ensure an affected individual has a track record of public speaking and is comfortable with delivering a presentation on a personal topic to a large audience.

        In our extrovert-oriented, go-go-go culture, we appear to be losing sight of how stressful public speaking is for many people. I have been involved with several mental health and medical organizations (NAMI not among them) who to my surprise are comfortable asking someone to prepare and deliver an unpaid talk, and then following up afterwards with criticism and complaints about the quality/content of the presentation.

        We just need to check our entitlement and have empathy for others. Isn’t that what life is all about?

    • Al

      It’s likely not just a cold call, but part of a long-term working relationship NAMI has with its volunteers and/or former customers. Most conference planners worth their salt know who to ask and who not to.

  • chlost

    It is one of my daily challenges with my job. There is a huge lack of services for children and teens who need help with their mental health. A lack of beds in residential treatment facilities, resulting in months-long waits. A lack of facilities which will even accept youth who have behavioral issues and a history of “acting out” as part of their illness. Six- to 8-week wait lists for outpatient services, for chemical dependency and/or mental health counseling (as if chemical dependency is not tied to mental health), and insurance companies which deny higher levels of care until the lower levels of care have been depleted.
    I admire NAMI for trying to bring issues of mental health into the public discussion, but I wish we could get help on the other end, and get services for kids in particular.

    • This year’s theme at the NAMI event was services for children.

      Worth noting that one of the people in attendance was the city council member in Forest Lake who voted for the proposed clinic in that city a month or so ago.

  • Nato Coles

    There are stories out there told by people who have jumped from high places, intending to end their lives, and lived. To my knowledge there are very, very few people who survive and try it again. Here’s a story told by/about two Golden Gate Bridge jump survivors. “Instant regret” seems to be the theme. I hope that, if this man who jumped and survived wants to do so, he shares his story too. http://6abc.com/society/second-chances-i-survived-jumping-off-the-golden-gate-bridge/2020159/

    • Yep, the Golden State guy is pretty much everyone’s “go to” on the subject.

    • Tim o’Bedlam

      There was a harrowing article a few years back in the City Pages about survivors of jumps from the High Bridge in St. Paul. Nearly all of the survivors said they thought, as they were falling, “oh my God I’ve made a mistake”.

  • Jack

    Driving into work Tuesday morning, I saw a man hanging over the river with Minneapolis police and fire responding. I am hoping that he also made it back to right side of the railing and gets the help he needs.

    For all those working to assist people living with mental illness, thank you. You are my heroes.

  • Al

    Know that there are SO many of us who have been there, and if you’re wondering whether you should ask for help, please do. We, your friends and family, love you exactly as you are, and will give everything we own to help you.

  • AL287

    People around the country still buy into the stereotype that mentally ill people are dangerous.

    When a mental health facility with pre-approved funds from the state was put up for a vote in Forest Lake, rather than ignore the common misconception that mentally ill people are a danger to society, they decided, “Not in my back yard.”

    If Winnick or his two council henchmen are up for reelection in the fall, this Forest Lake voter will not be giving them their chairs back.

    If you have ever substituted for a SPED teacher in an EBD classroom, you know exactly why we so desperately need this facility in Forest Lake as well as other communities across the state.

    And don’t even think about posing the question, ” But what about all those recent high school shootings?”

    Had the young man in Florida had access to a youth mental health facility such as the one proposed for Forest Lake, those 17 vibrant youth with their whole lives to look forward to might still be alive.