Well, If Everyone Jumped Off A Bridge . . . .

Then would it be worth $2m?

The Chronicle reports today that the GG Bridge District benefits from federal money it wasn’t previously aware of, that it will use for a $2m suicide barrier study.

Two MILLION Dollars? Wow.

Obviously, any form of suicide barrier is controverisal – pitting families of victims against those interestes in protecting the Golden Gate’s architectural and artistic integrity.

In the few articles I’ve read on the topic (there’s a nice collection of them listed in the article’s sidebar), I’ve yet to see any really good depiction of what such a barrier would look like. All I can imagine is a higher fence or railing that would discourage jumpers. It’s a pretty easy vault right now.

I only recently became a frequent Bridge pedestrian. It is a little scary up there: a waist or chest high railing and then nothing but the clear blue sea. Having lost a friend to suicide (cliff-diving, in his case) during high school, I’m sensitive to family desires to protect other families from similar pain.

But would it work?

I’ve read several studies showing that while women attempt suicide more often, men actually commit suicide more often. Men are more likely to choose methods that are less likely to fail (guns over medication, etc). Those who choose the Bridge, I would assume, are more sure about their purposes. One wonders, then, how effective a suicide barrier would be.

In other words, though the number of attempts from the Golden Gate Bridge would decrease – would suicide rates in the Bay Area change at all?

One writer cites a 1978 Berkeley study of 500 people who had been prevented from jumping. Only 6% went on to commit suicide another way. How many others contemplated or tried, however, aside from those who were “prevented?” There are as many unknown variables in such studies as there are states of mind.

Would the $2m approved for the study – and the $15 – 25m for the barrier itself – be better spent on mental health programs? Suicide prevention and intervention programs?

This is a case where the “how” detracts a dangerous amount of attention from the “why,” along with uglying up the Golden Gate Bridge – a stereotypical San Francisco landmark even I have come to appreciate lately – specifically for its unfettered views of the city and the Pacific.

2 Comments so far

  1. SEAN (unregistered) on March 24th, 2005 @ 4:41 pm

    Last year, a coworker actually witnessed a young woman take the plunge off the bridge. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and he said she quite calmly pedalled her bike to a stop sorta mid-span, only about 20 feet away from him. She leaned the bike against the railing, put her bookbag down, and paused only for a moment. Then she was up and over the edge. He said, astoundingly fast, a rescue crew appeared and, of all things, tossed a dye marker into the water, apparently to determine which way the currents were going to anticipate where her body would pop up. Despite the surreal nature of it all, one of his first impulses was to examine what she’d left behind. But the rescue crew quickly and wisely blocked any access to the bag, etc. At first he was nonchalant about it, but as the workweek progressed he got more and more freaked out (not surprisingly) about what he’d seen. Even worse was the fact that he was never able to find out any ‘official’ information (validation) as to who she was … that it actually happened (as these incidents are never publicized for fear of ‘glamorizing’ it all, as we all know).

    I’m not sure where I’m even going with this but the imagery of it all has always stuck with me. Of the myriad of questions raised when anyone does this, I’ve always wondered why she chose such a primetime public setting for it. (Why do I imagine that most jumpers choose the desolate wee hours of the early morning?) Anyways, I’m not sure what the proposed barrier would look like either. But the stats you quote (and I’ve seen them before too), male or female, I would surmise that the people who choose the bridge would be filed under “likely to fail”. It’s less a cry for help than it is one final goodbye.

    I guess this would also be a good segue into re-visiting the brouhaha over the secret filming of these suicides last year.

    Film captures suicides on Golden Gate Bridge: Angry officials say moviemaker misled them


  2. AF (unregistered) on March 26th, 2005 @ 2:37 am

    I heard a caller on the radio tell a similar tale. The caller, a woman, had been driving southbound on the bridge and thought she saw someone slip over the edge. When she pulled up to the toll booth she recounted what she thought she saw, and the toll taker said “honey, we see that happen every week working here.”

    Apparently, the GoldenGate has the highest suicide rate of all US bridges, something like ten times the rate of the second highest bridge.

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