On two occasions I have ascended to the uppermost level of a public car park to take photographs. On both occasions, car park staff appeared to ask me if I’m okay. It seems that part of managing a multi-story car park in twenty-first century Britain is trying to stop people from jumping off the top to their deaths.
The first time it happened, I was amused; the over-zealous safety culture in action. The second time, I was disturbed. Maybe the car park managers aren’t overzealous, maybe this is a serious problem. It is. The man who came to check on me at a car park in Worthing was about my own age, probably more at home fixing a lifting barrier than dealing with a disturbed and suicidal person. Having assured him that I was there to photograph urban sprawl and brandishing my camera as evidence, I asked him about the situation. He had worked at the car park for four years and in that time four people had jumped to their deaths.
We walked around the top deck of the car park. The pavement was six floors below. Signs from the Samaritans invited the reader to call them and talk. Hand-made signs from kindly local people reminded me that I could get through this and that I was loved. Clearly, there is something wrong here, something dark and disturbing. Something that the car park staff, the Samaritans and local people were trying to address.
For both males and females in the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death in the age group of 20 to 34 years. Intentional self-harm, in the dry language of the Office of National Statistics. Not accidents, not cancer, these people had decided that they wanted death and had got what they wanted. The oblivion of a mangled body at the bottom of a six-storey fall was preferable to life.
I have been blessed with good physical and mental health all my life. I know it is a blessing, a winning hand in the card game of life and I am grateful. I also realise that others are less fortunate, they struggle to get from one day to the next. For me, the top of a car park is a high point from which I can take strikingly different photographs. For others, it’s an emergency exit from a world of pain.
Maybe death represents certainty. Oblivion is an end of everything, but at least it’s an end. No more pain, no more uncertainty, no more hurt, no more rejection, no more hopelessness. Just eternal peace.
This is so incredibly sad. That the greatest thing we possess, existence, is too much much to bear. The unique privilege of being a sentient being has turned to poison. How desperately, terribly sad.