Mind & Body

The High Place Phenomenon Is A Healthy Urge...To Jump Off A Bridge

You're driving down a twisty-turvy, two-lane highway that hugs the edge of a rocky cliff. It's a precarious patch of road, and you're on high alert as you carefully stay within the asphalt's painted lines. But what if...you didn't? What if you let the car fly clear off the edge of that bluff? You could. It would be so easy. It's right there. Thankfully, you never follow this disturbing urge — but you've definitely felt it. It's called the high place phenomenon, and it's not only normal, but probably healthy.

It's Not Just You

It's probably one of the things you didn't realize other people felt too — the random urge to jump off a bridge or veer off a cliff, when neither of those things actually sound appealing. Don't worry, there's (probably) no need to seek psychiatric attention. The high place phenomenon is commonly experienced by people with suicidal thoughts as well as people without them, according to a study by researchers at Florida State University's Department of Psychology.

If you're in the latter group, experiencing these urges may not be a sign of suicide ideation ("a term broadly defined as having any degree of thought about dying by your own hands," according to Medical Daily) after all. According to the Florida State study, these bizarre urges may mean you have a healthy will to live.

To Jump Or Not To Jump?

Surely you thought of jumping off that ledge because you must've wanted to jump, even for a split second — right? Probably not, say the study authors. There's most likely some cognitive dissonance going on in your brain. Though you weren't in real danger of falling off a cliff, just seeing the edge filled your brain with confusion and fear, and it convinced you that you were at risk. As you put together a knee-jerk rationalization for feeling scared in that moment, you think: "Oh no, I must have wanted to jump!" This split-second conclusion, according to the study, shows that you are especially sensitive to internal cues of danger. This sensitivity may actually affirm your will to live. Phew.

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Written by Joanie Faletto February 22, 2017