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“Anyone can fall through during a momentary crisis.”
March 26, 2014 3:49 PM   Subscribe

With suicide on the rise (previously), the directors of the Golden Gate Bridge are finally considering the construction of a $66 million safety net. That is, if the funding completely comes through. Opponents believe the net will be an eyesore and will simply lead people to other locations/methods.
posted by ReeMonster (102 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kind of annoying to presented with an "it could be an eyesore" objection but no image or rendering of what this terrible structure is planned to look like.

Apparently the GGB suicide barrier project website has artist's renderings of several different barrier designs... buried somewhere in the site... possibly deep in a PDF file... in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of The Leopard".

Here is a news article that managed to find and include an image of what a barrier might look like. More at the bottom of this page.
posted by anonymisc at 4:02 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Found it - the renderings are buried in this PDF file.
posted by anonymisc at 4:08 PM on March 26 [9 favorites]


From Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, I've seen a fair amount of "police activity" on the bridge over the years. You always know what it means when they drop a flare over the side into the water. This barrier is a long time coming, and we should have had it much longer ago.

Previously on mefi.
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Opponents don't care about human life and can go to hell.
posted by edheil at 4:13 PM on March 26 [19 favorites]


Even if we really are so monstrously dedicated to the aesthetics of this bridge that its worth people's lives, people committing suicide are also an 'eyesore,' as are the search and rescue missions dedicated to the dangerous task of fishing out bodies, as is its well established reputation for death, as the sickening callousness of a municipality that so conspicuously just doesn't doesn't give a damn.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:13 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


I don't care about the aesthetics, but if it increases the number of people who jump in front of bart it may actually hurt more than it helps.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:17 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


BART/Caltrain jumpers are also a real problem (there have been at least two suicides-by-Caltrain since I moved here in September). However:
Two bridges in Washington, D.C., span the 125-foot deep Rock Creek gorge, the Ellington, famous as the "suicide bridge" with about four deaths a year, and the Taft, with fewer than two a year.

But after three people died in a 10-day period in 1985, the city erected barriers at the Ellington Bridge. Critics feared jumpers would just go to the Taft instead. But five years later, a study showed no suicides at the Ellington Bridge and no change at Taft. As a result, the overall suicide deaths went down in the nation's capital by 50 percent.
(via)
posted by en forme de poire at 4:20 PM on March 26 [35 favorites]


Opponents believe the net will be an eyesore and will simply lead people to other locations/methods.

Of, for fuck sake...

It will lead SOME people to other locations.

Most people with suicidal mindsets take a hint when society builds physical barriers to frustrate their suicide attempt.
posted by ocschwar at 4:21 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


This is the NYT article ref'd in that ABC link. Saliently:
“Sticking one’s head in the oven” became so common in Britain that by the late 1950s it accounted for some 2,500 suicides a year, almost half the nation’s total.

Those numbers began dropping over the next decade as the British government embarked on a program to phase out coal gas in favor of the much cleaner natural gas. By the early 1970s, the amount of carbon monoxide running through domestic gas lines had been reduced to nearly zero. During those same years, Britain’s national suicide rate dropped by nearly a third, and it has remained close to that reduced level ever since.
So who knows, but it seems like there is at least some evidence that passive methods can and do have an impact on the suicide rate. It's not my area, though, so if anyone here has better data, I'd be interested to see it.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:23 PM on March 26 [25 favorites]


A structure that, in addition to its practical function, is in effect a visual representation of the concept "We care about people's lives" is not an eyesore. Those who think otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by ogooglebar at 4:27 PM on March 26 [14 favorites]


Safety nets make more sense than you would think because most people imagine suicide being a planned and thought-out decision by a person determined to commit suicide but really a lot of times it's a very spontaneous decision by someone who is not thinking logically for a short period of time. That's why, for example, studies have shown that people on a bridge's pedestrian walkway are less likely to attempt suicide by jumping off the edge of the bridge if they have to cross a lane of traffic to get there. Overall people will commit suicide at higher rates if they have easy access to a method of suicide that seems convenient and desirable, so making obvious methods of suicide less easy will help decrease the likelihood in the same way that not leaving loaded guns lying around would.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:30 PM on March 26 [33 favorites]


Thanks en forme de poire, I retract my ignorant statement.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:33 PM on March 26 [9 favorites]


I read somewhere that the few survivors of this jump, almost to a person, remember feeling, on the way down, what a mistake they have made. . .

This is long, long overdue. They can also fix the BART stations to further discourage jumpers, but first, the bridge.
posted by Danf at 4:34 PM on March 26


The rendered safety net looks fine and would be barely noticeable. A 12' fence would be depressing as your view would be entirely through chain-link.
posted by MillMan at 4:35 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


There is overwhelming evidence that decreasing the availability of suicide methods (guns, oven gas, bridge leaps, etc) decreases the total suicide rate, nearly in proportion to the restriction of the method. Suggesting that bridge safety nets would just move the suicides elsewhere is wrong on the facts.

Suicide epidemiology is so counter-intuitive that making a public policy decision without consulting the statistics is simply negligent.
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:35 PM on March 26 [24 favorites]


Opponents don't care about human life and can go to hell.

That's about half the budget of the entire Millennium Villages Project, which is on track to save thousands of lives a year in child mortality reductions alone, and improves the lives of hundreds of thousands of the poorest people in the world.

So, I dunno; there might be opportunity costs to weigh.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:35 PM on March 26 [20 favorites]


Sometimes even just distracting someone for a little while when they're suicidal can stop them from actually going through with it. I guess one could ask if $66 million worth of mental health services would go further, but it's hard to tell without knowing how that cost breakdown actually works out annually. I, personally, would happily give up a view if it was going to save lives--it gets to me a little bit that there are people who wouldn't. But, yes, it is a lot of money, and "we could do more good with this elsewhere" is I think a reasonable concern.
posted by Sequence at 4:37 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I had fun taking some lovely photos of the America's Cup races from the bridge. That wouldn't be possible with some of the barrier designs (but it would be possible with some others).

So it would make me a little bit sad if I couldn't do that, but not enough to get in the way of a useful safety feature like this!

Perhaps that is what the aesthetic objection is? I think the bridge is already kinda ugly when viewed up-close so I don't understand how adding some more steel amidst the existing thousands of tons would change it either way. (And viewed at a distance, pretty sure it would make no difference.)
posted by anonymisc at 4:37 PM on March 26


A net is pretty pointless. It just means jumpers have to jump twice.

The only real barrier is...a barrier. Cover the walkway in a chainlink tunnel like every overpass has had for ages and ages now (or something less ugly, if your aesthetic snobbery is bigger than your compassion).
posted by Sys Rq at 4:37 PM on March 26




The article does have some pretty strong arguments in favor of a net: "The net would be made of stainless steel cable and would collapse slightly if someone jumped in, making it difficult to get out, bridge officials said. The district would have a "snooper" truck with an elongated arm to get people out, although such rescues might be rare because the net would act as a deterrent. A similar net was placed more than a decade ago on the Munster Terrace cathedral in Bern, Switzerland, and since then no suicide attempts have been reported."
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:42 PM on March 26 [8 favorites]


In Toronto they built this giant metal net thing around the Bloor St. viaduct, which is where people would go kill themselves in Toronto. I think it looks cool, but I can barely really remember what it looked like without the thing now. I think people get used to these things.

And yeah, these sorts of things do make a difference. I guess for some it is a matter of whether you think that difference is worth 66 million dollars or not.
posted by chunking express at 4:43 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


[threads about suicide are complex, please make an effort to show that you are trying to have a conversation and not just lob conversational bombs into this thread]
posted by jessamyn at 4:46 PM on March 26 [11 favorites]


GGB is high profile. Doing this will not reduce the number of people who are set to kill themselves. It WILL prevent them from doing it on the GGB. Some, are impulse suicides...MAYBE...but no one really knows. Rather than put up a hideous net...why not EMPLOY....people to patrol the freakin bridge. Save lives, put people to work....of course this is SF, CA so that won't happen....common sense is automatically ruled out.
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:49 PM on March 26


Suicide, even when planned, is most often a momentary, compulsive act. This barrier will save lives. It will give some who have a momentary impulse a second chance. Even one life saved is worth it.

{note: the barrier rather blends in with the larger structure - some may disagree, but that's not my main point}

Further note: about trains. I knew a prolific inventor who suggested a kind of large frontal "airbag" for trains that was made with a strong adhesive exterior. The airbag could be deployed by the train's conductor (it would reach right down to rail level) and adhere (stick) to anyone on the tracks and carry them forward until the train could come to a full stop. Regardless of the reason for being on the track, I thought that was a good idea...don't know what happened to it)
posted by Vibrissae at 4:52 PM on March 26


there might be opportunity costs to weigh

Saving money on the barrier will probably not translate into more money for the Millennium Villages Project or any other charity. In fact, my experience has been that people who spend money for the public good are the ones who are most likely to increase their spending on charitable programs. The problem isn't donors running out of money; it's getting people over the hurdle of making any sort of contribution at all.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:54 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I think it was at a newer London Underground station where I saw secondary glass barriers and gates that would prevent jumpers, or people being pushed, from landing on the track. BART could do this.

Of course, the determined person will find a way, but others have stated, correctly, that suicide is not always a product of determination.
posted by Danf at 4:57 PM on March 26


what i don't understand is how this costs $66mm?

a similar project was undertaken in seattle(and heh, it even mentions this net in that faq!). It cost 4.6 million, and i remember at the time they were trying to figure out if they could do a net that option was cheaper. Is some sochi olympics-esque corruption shit going on here?

As a side note, i don't see how a net is going to "aesthetically ruin" the bridge. At least it's not a horrendously ugly fence. That seems like a 1000x weaker argument than it was in seattle, where that already felt like a really pathetic argument.
posted by emptythought at 5:03 PM on March 26


I've done some research on suicide. In general, many suicides can be prevented by making it more difficult though some people will be so committed to suicide that they will find a way to end their lives. Of people who survive suicide attempts, including the few who survive jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, almost all are happy to have survived. I've posted it before in comments, but it's a piece of writing that has affected me deeply, so How Not to Commit Suicide, by Art Kleiner.
posted by theora55 at 5:03 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Opponents don't care about human life and can go to hell.

Budgets aren't infinite. If the same amount of money could save more lives if spent somewhere else, it should be spent there instead, and that is the exact opposite of a callous disregard for human life. For what it's worth, Toronto has built a fence around the Bloor Viaduct for the same reasons, called the Luminous Veil. As the wikipedia article notes:
"While the Luminous Veil appears to have had the intended effect of preventing suicides on the Prince Edward Viaduct, it has had no appreciable effect on the total number of suicides in Toronto."
So there's also a good argument to be made that all this barrier will do, however much it costs and whatever it looks like, is make suicide less visible.
posted by mhoye at 5:10 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Opponents don't care about human life and can go to hell.

This seems like a reasonable, good faith argument.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:17 PM on March 26 [21 favorites]


of course this is SF, CA so that won't happen....common sense is automatically ruled out.
Hi, as you look at the thread you may notice that intuition and so-called "common sense" are not actually very good at helping with suicide. There are a number of factors with the Golden Gate Bridge that make it a target for suicides, including its fame as a spot for such suicides. Evidence, both from interviewing suicide survivors and from similar projects around the world, is that a deterrent such as a barrier or a net is extremely efficacious in preventing suicides and, indeed, reducing the overall suicide rate in the relevant region. Your patrol idea, on the other hand, has the startlingly obvious weaknesses that at any given moment, most of the bridge would still be free of patrollers; such patrollers would need to be trained in the extremely delicate task of negotiation with suicidal persons; and probably others. A net or other barrier certainly seems to be the best solution we have access to.

Perhaps this will help you reconsider other areas in your life where the "common sense" that you see seems invisible to others. Maybe the idea in question isn't so stunningly excellent as it may seem to you.
posted by kavasa at 5:18 PM on March 26 [22 favorites]


In 1978, Dr. Richard Seiden of UC Berkeley published "Where Are They Now?," a study of 515 people who, from 1937 to 1971, were prevented from jumping from the bridge. He found that only 6 percent went on to kill themselves -- suggesting that many bridge suicides are impulsive.

"When a person is unable to kill himself in a particular way, it may be enough to tip the vital balance from death to life in a situation already characterized by strong ambivalence," Seiden wrote.

"The hypothesis -- that Golden Gate Bridge attempters will 'just go someplace else' -- is clearly unsupported by the data. Instead, findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature.

"Accordingly," he concluded, "the justification for prevention and intervention such as building a suicide prevention barrier is warranted. And the prognosis for suicide attempters is, on balance, relatively hopeful."

posted by rtha at 5:23 PM on March 26 [16 favorites]


This strikes close to home for me as one of my good friends did exactly this in high school. It was a pretty horrendous feeling then, both from the time he went missing to the time when they found him and realized he'd jumped of the Golden Gate. I never really understood the aesthetic argument for this, it's not like they're chain linking it for 20 feet. It's a pretty low barrier right now, a net that you can see only if you look over isn't going to affect you that much. On the other hand I realize that I have a more emotional attachment to the idea of preventing GGB suicides, I'm sure there are good faith arguments and that people really do CARE, but it can be hard to see that as it currently stands.
posted by Carillon at 5:35 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Rather than put up a hideous net...why not EMPLOY....people to patrol the freakin bridge. Save lives, put people to work....of course this is SF, CA so that won't happen....common sense is automatically ruled out.

Or you could read the article and discover that your revolutionary idea is actually the status quo.
posted by anonymisc at 5:36 PM on March 26 [14 favorites]


And this was in 2005. That nothing's been done in 9 years is still pretty shocking.
posted by Carillon at 5:36 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I think it was at a newer London Underground station where I saw secondary glass barriers and gates that would prevent jumpers, or people being pushed, from landing on the track. BART could do this.

Canary Wharf has glass doors, as I recall. Some others do, too. Some subway stations in Japan have a little fence and gates. Having been at Canary Wharf and a couple of Japanese stations at rush hour, I assumed it was so that you could safely cram insane numbers of people onto the platform without risk of them falling onto the tracks, but I have no idea if suicide was also a consideration.
posted by hoyland at 5:38 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Doing this will not reduce the number of people who are set to kill themselves.

so did you like, read any of the other comments
posted by en forme de poire at 5:42 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Hoyland, unfortunately as we saw a year or so ago in NYC, homicide can also be a consideration.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:43 PM on March 26


Previously on Metafilter.
posted by narain at 5:53 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I read somewhere that the few survivors of this jump, almost to a person, remember feeling, on the way down, what a mistake they have made. . .

“I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

I find it mind-boggling that "the bridge won't look as nice" is offered as a serious argument against deterring people from killing themselves. One suspects that if nets were the only way to prevent small stones from falling from the bridge, landing on the cars of the people making this argument, and messing up their paint jobs, they'd suddenly be in favor of the nets.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 5:53 PM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Looking through that PDF, it seems to me that all the solutions that might actually prevent suicide (the horizontal and vertical solutions) are an eyesore. But they haven't been approved. The approved solution (a net) is much less of an eyesore but will not actually prevent suicide because once you've jumped into the net you can just crawl to the edge and finish the job.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:54 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Initial reaction : Isn't $66 million an awful lot of scratch? Can't that money be better spent preventing suicides another way? Isn't this debate just eyesore vs bad publicity?

Post-reading reaction : Alright maybe this specific bridge needs nets given "The Golden Gate Bridge is the second most used suicide site in the world" and "By 2012 .. new suicides were occurring about once every two weeks".

There are many options here like nets or high railing or both, maybe a Stanford PhD could design a warning system, etc. In particular, they should not necessarily try to make the bridge a less popular place to attempt suicide, maybe nets alone could keep determined jumpers driving to the bridge, but take so long to climb over that staff arrive to prevent the suicide.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:04 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


singorswim: One suspects that if nets were the only way to prevent small stones from falling from the bridge, landing on the cars of the people making this argument, and messing up their paint jobs, they'd suddenly be in favor of the nets.

From the article linked by Danf:
For the past twenty-five years, however, three hundred and fifty feet of the southern end of the bridge have been festooned with an eight-foot-tall cyclone fence, directly above the Fort Point National Park site on the shore of the Bay. This “debris fence” was erected to keep tourists from dropping things—including, at one point, bowling balls—on other tourists below. “It’s a public-safety issue,” the bridge’s former chief engineer, Mervin Giacomini, told me.

Another factor is cost, which would seem particularly important now that the Bridge District has a projected five-year shortfall of more than two hundred million dollars. Yet, in October, construction will be completed on a fifty-four-inch-high steel barrier between the walkway and the adjacent traffic lanes which is meant to prevent bicyclists from veering into traffic. No cyclist has ever been killed; nonetheless, the bridge’s chief engineer, Denis Mulligan, says that the five-million-dollar barrier was necessary: “It’s a public-safety issue.” Engineers are also considering erecting a movable median to prevent head-on collisions, at a cost of at least twenty million dollars. “It’s a public-safety issue,” Al Boro, a member of the Bridge District’s board of directors, said to me.
So, basically, yes.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:18 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


ogooglebar: "A structure that, in addition to its practical function, is in effect a visual representation of the concept "We care about people's lives" is not an eyesore. Those who think otherwise should be ashamed of themselves."

I think they should take a flying leap off a bridge, but then again, (supposing) we put those nets up, then luckily for them, they'll still be alive.
posted by symbioid at 6:32 PM on March 26


Doing this will not reduce the number of people who are set to kill themselves.

so did you like, read any of the other comments


so like did you, en forme de poire, read this one

The Bloor Viaduct in Toronto was the #2 suicide bridge in North America. It's not anymore, but the instances of suicide by jumping in Toronto haven't decreased at all. People just go somewhere else now.

(Not that installing an effective barrier on the Golden Gate isn't worth doing. It's just, preventing suicide there probably won't prevent suicide in general.)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:33 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


They put up tall fences on our local bridges, with little holes at about face-height so you can still look through and see/photograph the beautiful views. It's a pretty cool compromise.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:01 PM on March 26


Anti-depressants can, and usually do, take a few weeks to reach full effect. A person suffering from depression and suicide ideation will go through very complex mood changes during this time. On one day, at one moment, it's very possible that someone could still have the desire to commit suicide and a newfound ability to carry it through.

I support anything that stops someone from jumping off a bridge on that day.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 7:05 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


I think that a barrier is a fantastic idea. Even if it looks ugly, and even if it doesn't reduce the total number of suicides all by itself. Because it sends a message to anyone headed there to die that we collectively care enough to stop you from dying here right now.

Below is a lengthy account of my experience. Having personal experience with this issue does not make my opinion more valid than others, but I hope this story will make suicide and depression more visible to those without first hand experience.

I am a suicide survivor. I have vivid memories of the lengthy spiral of bad choices that deepened my depression and lead me to a hospital. I am amazed at how little reason and common sense worked for me at the time. The terrifying thing about depression is that you do things that should make you feel better but they don't. Get enough sleep, get enough food, get some exercise, have fun with friends -- if the depression is deep enough you do that stuff and it makes you feel worse because it didn't make you feel better. If you let that go on long enough without getting some serious intervention (therapy, medication, etc), you can start to lose hope that anything will ever improve.

I remember searching online for ways to kill myself, only to find many sites directing me to get help. I don't think I could have ever jumped, but I do remember walking past signs on bridges that said "Feeling sad? Call this number..." Every time I found some kind of message it gave me pause, and that was one more chance for me to have gotten help. One more day for a friend to get up the nerve to ask me what was going on.

Thankfully, I chose a pretty low success-rate method and was saved by some friends, a stomach pump, and years of therapy. In the hospital ward, there was another patient there who had survived a bridge jump. She was wearing a thick plastic shell around her whole torso. The chances of her survival were so much lower than mine, and her recovery took much longer. I'm glad that I didn't have to be as lucky as she was to get to where I am now.

So I think the barrier is a partial but essential solution. Require the hotline number on sleeping pill boxes. Include education about depression in middle and high school health classes. Put up those fences in subways. I'd rather raise awareness of the problem with that stuff than with lost lives and unconscionable statistics.
posted by cubby at 7:09 PM on March 26 [40 favorites]


On one hand 66M is a lot of money to raise to prevent people from electing to commit suicide (the eyesore argument is bullshit in my opinion) from a single structure, but considering that this money is being sought through many venues, including Federal and State, and knowing that a single F/A-18 Hornet costs the Air Force and taxpayers 97M to produce... I think its laughable that a country which prides itself on helping others (whether this is actually in practice or not...) would consider this worthy of true debate.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:23 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


And this:

"Require the hotline number on sleeping pill boxes. Include education about depression in middle and high school health classes. Put up those fences in subways. I'd rather raise awareness of the problem with that stuff than with lost lives and unconscionable statistics"

Yes, please.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:24 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


To be fair I can't see much specific evidence in either of these links that lots of people are objecting on the grounds that it would be an eyesore. That's a shameful opinion to hold, but it's not clear to me that it is currently widely held.
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:27 PM on March 26


I find this followup article about a South Korean bridge that deployed LED displays with hopeful messages to prevent suicide to be interesting. Someone made an FPP about it here awhile back.

tl;dr is that this method seems only to have increased the number of suicide attempts, but the added publicity is cited as the cause. So who knows whether that would be helpful at the GGB.
posted by Room 101 at 7:35 PM on March 26


Because it sends a message to anyone headed there to die that we collectively care enough to stop you from dying here right now. cubby, I'm so glad you survived. And thanks for putting it this way.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 PM on March 26 [5 favorites]


The Bloor Viaduct in Toronto was the #2 suicide bridge in North America. It's not anymore, but the instances of suicide by jumping in Toronto haven't decreased at all. People just go somewhere else now.

The article cited in the Wikipedia article claims that the rates of suicide by jumping increased at other bridges in Toronto. So apparently Toronto has a lot of bridges where one could commit suicide by jumping. Does San Francisco? I've been there a few times, and don't remember too many that were high enough to really promise death if you jumped (just a cold, painful drowning (never the dream of the suicidal), or an exhausting swim to shore). Maybe the Oakland Bay Bridge. The point is: yes, if you cut off one suicide path, it's likely that people will adjust, and find another. So cut off those, too! If suicide rates go up at the Oakland Bay bridge after netting the Golden Gate, net the Oakland Bay bridge too. All that tech money in the Bay Area, and it can't come up with $66M? Hell, that's a mere 66 townhouses!

This isn't a good argument to not eliminate one path. But it is a good argument to work to eliminate as many paths as you can. Sure, you can't prevent a determined person from killing themselves. Sorrow is ingenious, and death will find a way, sometimes. But as I see repeated here all the time on MeFi: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
posted by dis_integration at 8:27 PM on March 26 [7 favorites]


Cold spring canyon bridge is the highest arch type in the state.
posted by hortense at 8:43 PM on March 26


I work for the state and was in crisis intervention class today with some of the people who work at the GGB and it's environs who routinely pull people off the bridge. The bridge management say 46 people jumped last year. The Coast Guard say they pulled 72 people out of the water, not necessarily all of them from the bridge. The CHP talked another 120 out of doing it.

Nothing regarding a barrier was discussed today, but there are people who come back multiple times. At least one case of someone getting talked down twice only to come back a third time and go through with it.
posted by ericales at 9:35 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]




The net does seem to be the best option with minimal impact in that proposal document (aside: how come all the 5 options were costed at "$40-50 million"?)
posted by Bwithh at 9:54 PM on March 26


I read it, Sys Rq. The original comment I was referring to had lazy stereotypes and no references and was posted before anyone mentioned the Toronto case, which is why it annoyed me.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:07 PM on March 26


The Toronto example is also one example of a negative result, while there are plenty of examples (some linked in this thread) of positive results. It would be great to understand what made it different, especially when other interventions have been actually quite dramatically effective.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:16 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Here's the 2010 suicide numbers. Bridge and building jumpers are included under 'Fall'.
All             38,364

Firearm         19,392
Suffocation     9,493
Poisoning       6,599
Drowning        3,782
Fall            781
Cut/piercing    673
Machinery       590
Fire            262
All transport   114

Other           800
I for one can come up with better suicide prevention uses for $66,000,000.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:31 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Part of that money will be recovered in savings from not having to search for jumpers in the water. Perhaps all the money would be saved in relatively short order.

I am one inclined to support the choice of suicide. I have a friend who is very strongly the opposite, and has persuasive arguments to the contrary. My position is rooted in the idea of self-ownership. His is rooted in the idea that if suicide is an accepted option, than some people would be encouraged to avail themselves of that option, for the "sake of their loved-ones". Deep down, I know he's right. He knows he'd be one encourage to die, seeing as he's severely disabled.

I still find the idea of being forced to live through suffering as a total horror. I can not accept the very idea that someone should be allowed to make that choice for someone else, anymore than they should be allowed to choose death for another person.
posted by Goofyy at 11:12 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


The Sydney harbour bridge -another very iconic bridge - is now effectively wholly fenced in to pedestrians. The gaps are even smaller than chain link. Not a big deal.you can still see through it; the view is still spectacular; no one can jump now. You can't take a great photo while in the bridge, but that's okay; there are lots of great places to take photos, you only get one life.
posted by smoke at 11:58 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Perhaps local firm Apple Computer could help with the 66 million, since they're already power users of anti-suicide nets.
posted by colie at 1:32 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Make it a fun thing people would pay to do. "Jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and get a video of your 'last words' and jump, all for only five dollars!" Aaiiiii... sproing! The net catches you and there are stairs to bring you back up (or an elevator for an extra dollar). That sucker would pay for itself in no time. You'd have a line waiting.
posted by pracowity at 2:05 AM on March 27


I suspect that (a) vertical barriers merely move the suicides elsewhere, like in Toronto, but (b) nets can be designed so that they take ages to climb over by making the holes too small for feet, either giving the person time to think or giving staff time to respond. In this way, you "trick" the jumper into jumping where they'll get caught in the net.

A google hit suggests metal suicide prevention railings cost like 15 times what suicide nets cost, so maybe $5-10 million to actually prevent around 25 suicides per year. If the nets last 5-10 years, that's 20-80k per suicide, not necessarily the most cost effective suicide prevention option, but not soo bad.

We could address suicides by firearm, suffocation, and poisoning with labeling laws, but not sure what else. Imagine the NRA protesting a law that all new firearms needed to have a suicide prevention hotline message engraved on them.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:11 AM on March 27


Gun buy backs are a good way to remove firearms from environments where they're no longer needed/wanted.

Education and outreach campaigns are also good, and perhaps most important funding for multilingual -- or more to the point multicultural -- suicide hotlines. In particular the immigrant population could be better served.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:30 AM on March 27


I suspect that (a) vertical barriers merely move the suicides elsewhere, like in Toronto,

Other data linked in this thread points to this idea not being a given.
posted by rtha at 9:40 AM on March 27


Toronto observed no overall change in the suicide rate, relatively good evidence that vertical barriers merely move the problem elsewhere. Also Canada had no recession to elevate the suicide rate then.

Conversely, NYC merely observed no increase in suicides at the Taft when they fenced the George Washington Bridge, not strong evidence. Also, “Sticking one’s head in the oven” declined over a 20 year period, and ovens are extremely commonplace, meaning the NYT article does not provide strong evidence either.

Any evidence linked here that I missed, rtha? If not, then I'm feeling good about my hunch that vertical barrier merely move the bridge suicides elsewhere while horizontal nets actually help prevent suicides by giving the person longer to think.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:53 AM on March 27


I for one can come up with better suicide prevention uses for $66,000,000.

Not for the Golden Gate Bridge. A local public health solution for a real, persistent local issue is not aiming to be a complete solution for heat of the moment suicide.

A former housemate wrote, under a pen name, Suicide and Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences (which is now out of print, but actively sought out in resale as you can see from the Amazon price). It's an incredibly well-researched piece of work. In it, distinction is made between reasoned suicide (referring to those who would go elsewhere when deterred) and impassioned suicide (referring to those who seek a gesture of desperation or relief from momentary despair). Both are worthy of serious study, but the latter is much more easily classified as an issue of interest to public health planners, city planners, police departments and the like, as a great deal of these attempts (successful or not) are made in public. For the former group--people who have reasoned their intention to kill themselves--one aims to communicate effective suicide methods that come with fewer unintended consequences that cause harm to others (like trauma to witnesses). For the latter group--those who make a momentary decision to kill themselves that would otherwise subside before a secondary attempt via another mechanism is considered--impediments to the act are the key step in the chain of events that leads to identifying a person who would otherwise benefit from therapeutic attention or any other kind of help.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:04 AM on March 27 [2 favorites]


Gun buy backs are a good way to remove firearms from environments where they're no longer needed/wanted.

Gun buyback programs are a good way to waste money. Just as with gun violence against others, we really need to address the underlying societal factors that lead to suicide. It will cost a hell of a lot more than $66 million, unfortunately, but we'd be treating the disease rather than the symptom.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:14 AM on March 27


If not, then I'm feeling good about my hunch that vertical barrier merely move the bridge suicides elsewhere while horizontal nets actually help prevent suicides by giving the person longer to think.

Ah, because I missed that you were addressing vertical barriers vs horizontal nets/barriers. I retroactively assign myself to read more carefully and drink more coffee before noon especially.
posted by rtha at 11:28 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


A friend of a friend recently committed suicide this way. No note, just a history of depression and a particularly stressful time in her life -- probably just a momentary crisis from what I can see. It's an absolutely devastating situation for all the people more closely connected with her and it's really making me reconsider my stance on this issue (that $66mil is too much and that it would be an ineffective eyesore).
posted by cman at 12:11 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


Gun buyback programs are a good way to waste money.

That article has no bearing on the matter at hand. It simply says that buyback programs aren't getting the weapons used to commit violent crimes off the street.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:16 PM on March 27


For those discussing cost and funding-- it sounds like funding for this project is transportation dollars trickling down from the Federal level. Those funds are restricted to transportation projects when they are allocated by Congress. It sounds as though Federal allocation language was adjusted to include related public-safety projects like suicide barriers to be included as an eligible activity.

So while $66M probably could pay for a lot of mental health support, etc etc, the specific $66M being put together for this particular project could not. If this money is not used for suicide barriers, it's not going to go to other suicide prevention programs, it's going to go to other transportation improvements (bridge upgrades, filling sidewalks, improving intersections). Those may be needed as well, and probably are--but this isn't $66M in general suicide-prevention money being used for barriers, it's $66M in transportation money being used for suicide prevention.
posted by Kpele at 1:41 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]


That article has no bearing on the matter at hand. It simply says that buyback programs aren't getting the weapons used to commit violent crimes off the street.

It says the programs only serve to remove rifles and shotguns from the street. It would be hard to commit suicide with a rifle. A shotgun with a short barrel would be manageable, but I'd wager that handguns are the biggest risk, just as they are with violent crime against others.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:48 PM on March 27


It turns out that handguns are a very unreliable way to kill yourself. Shotguns get the job done.

A discussion of the efficacy of various firearms in committing suicide.

On the other hand, that doesn't keep people from trying. On the third hand we have the results from the 2013 Los Angeles Buy Back program:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Police Chief Charlie Beck, as well as City Council members, to announce that the city collected 516 handguns, 381 rifles, 226 shotguns, and 49 assault weapons at the event...

This result is very different from what the previously linked article led one to think it would be.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:31 PM on March 27


It turns out that handguns are a very unreliable way to kill yourself.

That's not what that says. It says that of those who failed to kill themselves when using a firearm, 80% used handguns. But that doesn't mean that handguns are unreliable only that shotguns are even more reliable than handguns.
posted by Justinian at 2:54 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I was searching around and it does seem like gun buy-backs did reduce firearm suicide in Australia:
In the seven years before the NFA (1989-1995), the average annual firearm suicide death rate per 100,000 was 2.6 (with a yearly range of 2.2 to 2.9); in the seven years after the buyback was fully implemented (1998-2004), the average annual firearm suicide rate was 1.1 (yearly range 0.8 to 1.4).
There is at least one study that contests that idea, stating that firearm suicide was in decline anyway at that point, but I don't have access to the paper so I'm just basing this off the abstract.

One thing I thought was pretty fascinating was that an argument has been made that the reduction in the suicide rate in Australia may be in part because the most common suicide methods are less-likely to work. The twist is that this isn't because of firearm suicide (though they do note that attempts decreased as well) but because death by carbon monoxide inhalation is less common due to improved CO emissions standards! Thus, CO inhalation suicide attempts are less likely to be lethal than they used to be (similarly to the coal oven story above).
posted by en forme de poire at 3:04 PM on March 27


shockingbluamp: Rather than put up a hideous net...why not EMPLOY....people to patrol the freakin bridge. Save lives, put people to work....of course this is SF, CA so that won't happen....common sense is automatically ruled out.

Or, you know, the city has been doing that for decades now and realized that sending GGB employees out to snatch people off the rails put those worker's life in danger.

The most common environmental conditions on the bridge are these: very high winds, low-lying fogs that make all of the surfaces slick, and a drop that, if you're lucky, will kill you on impact with the water and if not, you drown and your body will be pulled out to sea never to be recovered. These are the conditions that local rescue workers have to operate under; trying to save lives without accidentally dying themselves.

Yeah, let's ignore decades of local knowledge in favor of some shiny-eyed out-of-stater who has only thought about the issue for 10 minutes or so. That oughta work great!
posted by echolalia67 at 3:25 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


That's not what that says. It says that of those who failed to kill themselves when using a firearm, 80% used handguns. But that doesn't mean that handguns are unreliable only that shotguns are even more reliable than handguns.

Fair enough. Overall firearms have a 10% failure rate, which if I'm doing the math right gives handguns an 8% failure rate and shotguns a .5% failure rate.

I'll grant that a 92% success rate could be considered reliable, but 99.5% is a reasonable improvement.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:11 PM on March 27


I don't follow your calculations, please to explain? For one thing I don't see how both handguns and shotguns can be more reliable than (handguns+shotguns).
posted by Justinian at 6:10 PM on March 27


Firearms also include rifles?

Vibrissae: "Suicide, even when planned, is most often a momentary, compulsive act. This barrier will save lives. It will give some who have a momentary impulse a second chance. Even one life saved is worth it."

That's a nice sentiment but it's not a realistic way of allocating funding. If at an installed cost of 66 Million the barriers only prevent a single death I'd see that as a big waste of money compared to many other thing you could do with that much money. Think how many flu vaccinations you could do with that kind of cash.

dis_integration: "So apparently Toronto has a lot of bridges where one could commit suicide by jumping. Does San Francisco? I've been there a few times, and don't remember too many that were high enough to really promise death if you jumped (just a cold, painful drowning (never the dream of the suicidal), or an exhausting swim to shore). Maybe the Oakland Bay Bridge. "

A three story fall onto a hard surface is usually fatal; there must be hundreds of bridges and overpasses in the area that would be effective.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on March 27


I think 92% is too high based on the numbers we have. If you use Bayes' rule (hg = handgun, fail/success = failed/successful attempt), and assume 10% of firearm suicide attempts are non-lethal and 80% of failed attempts involved a handgun:
P(fail|hg) = P(hg|fail)P(fail)/P(hg)
           = (0.8 * 0.1) / [P(hg|fail)P(fail) + P(hg|success)P(success)]
           = 0.08 / [0.08 + (??? * 0.9)]
So what we really need to know is the proportion of handguns in the population that successfully committed suicide. Intuitively, if that proportion is higher than it is in the surviving population, then it would mean handguns are more lethal than other firearm methods; if it's lower it means the opposite. Assuming that shotguns and rifles are more lethal than handguns, this means that P(hg|success) ("???" above) is less than 0.8, which means P(fail|hg) is at least 10%, which in turn means P(success|hg) is at most 90%. However, it would have to be a pretty big difference to matter a lot in the end: if P(hg|success) were only 0.5, that would still mean that a handgun suicide attempt was ~85% likely to be lethal. Which is still substantially more "effective" than carbon monoxide, according to the site linked above.

I don't have access to the original article cited there, annoyingly enough, so I can't actually calculate P(hg|success), but if anyone else does it should be pretty simple to calculate the missing numbers and plug 'em in.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:37 PM on March 27


That's a nice sentiment but it's not a realistic way of allocating funding. If at an installed cost of 66 Million the barriers only prevent a single death I'd see that as a big waste of money compared to many other thing you could do with that much money. Think how many flu vaccinations you could do with that kind of cash.

It's already been explained that the money's earmarked for transportation. I suppose you could argue that BART should be able to vaccinate people, but if you're of the opinion that suicide prevention was a stretch (I don't really think so, but perhaps you do), that's even more so.
posted by hoyland at 7:39 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


A three story fall onto a hard surface is usually fatal; there must be hundreds of bridges and overpasses in the area that would be effective.

But then why do people go to the GGB at all? There's no shortage of tall buildings or overpasses in SF.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:51 PM on March 27


Am i an asshole for thinking that as soon as people started pulling out math they were missing the point, and doing the pedantic nerd everything can be solved with technology/science/math and/or be reduced to a math problem beep boop! thing?

Because somehow it just strikes me as like, really detached and kinda makes me uncomfortable with this subject matter.
posted by emptythought at 7:51 PM on March 27


I don't follow your calculations, please to explain? For one thing I don't see how both handguns and shotguns can be more reliable than (handguns+shotguns).

That's a very good point. This is why I am not a statistician. Frighteningly enough I do write software that makes the Internet go, so now may be the right time to divest from high tech stocks.

What I was thinking was:

10 out of 100 attempted firearm suicides fail.
8 out of those ten are pistols.
Therefore 8 out of 100 attempted pistol suicides fail.
Therefore 92 of 100 attempted pistol suicides succeed.

Similar thoughts applied to the .5 out of ten failures that happen with shotguns.

Honestly it's the end of a long day and I'm not up to working out the fallacy there just now. Perhaps someone more talented at statistics can chime in.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:57 PM on March 27


Am i an asshole for thinking that as soon as people started pulling out math they were missing the point

I don't think you're an asshole but I think you may be misinterpreting what's going on.

and doing the pedantic nerd everything can be solved with technology/science/math and/or be reduced to a math problem beep boop! thing?

We have a fairly terrible problem in front of us. 38000 people are going to kill themselves this year and we have limited resources to stop that. We will not save them all, not even close.

The point of the numbers discussion is to save as many as possible with the resources at hand.

Because somehow it just strikes me as like, really detached and kinda makes me uncomfortable with this subject matter.

This I understand. It is very detached and impersonal and I think that serves the purpose of preventing our horror at the situation from driving us to a mistake. But it's very hard to look at someone who is dying and say "Yeah, sorry, we spent the money somewhere else."

Personally I don't like these discussions because they make me feel like I'm playing God. Just line up people in a row and I'll tell you who lives and who dies. It's not quite as bad as watching people starve, as there you quite literally choose individuals to live and die, but it's a queasy feeling nonetheless.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:12 PM on March 27


emptythought, I don't think you're an asshole at all. I do think that like a lot of other human afflictions, suicide can be viewed as a public health problem, and so public health professionals study this stuff and statistics is part of that toolbox. So by examining, e.g., how lethal different mechanisms of suicide are, and whether or not these survivors tend to make further attempts, the end game is to figure out ways to reduce death from suicide. And from that perspective, getting the numbers right is really important.

I definitely don't think it's the only perspective that needs to be considered, though; certainly suicide is a complex problem and I appreciate the people in this thread coming at this from different angles. I also definitely feel what TMNL is saying above about how decisions about how to allocate money for public health spending can feel really gross and hubristic and like there are no really "good" options. And I understand that the topic of this thread is very close to home for many people following it, so if I'm coming off as too detached or breezy then it is unintentional and I whole-heartedly apologize. I think cubby's response was really moving and I'm really glad that he contributed to the thread; I'd hate to discourage anyone else from speaking up.

Statistical footnote: TMNL, this is a place where lots of people get tripped up, so it's definitely not just you - for some reason Bayes' rule isn't usually part of the standard American school curriculum, even though it's largely just arithmetic and it has a lot of useful applications. Anyway, you can imagine that all the possibilities here are:
  • A) hg&&fail
  • B) hg&&succeed
  • C) !hg&&fail, and
  • D) !hg&&succeed.
The number you calculated is A, P(hg&&fail). That is P(hg|fail)P(fail), as you described above. So the other possibilities are given by B, C, and D, meaning A + B + C + D add to 1. What you want to be calculating, though, is P(fail|hg)... as in, if we're given that a handgun was used, what's the probability of surviving. So now the only possibilities are A and B, because C and D don't involve handguns. That means your denominator is only going to have A and B, so you are going to calculate A / (A + B), which if you work it out is what I sketched out upthread. Lemme know if that helps. If not shoot me a MeMail.

posted by en forme de poire at 8:28 PM on March 27


hoyland: "It's already been explained that the money's earmarked for transportation"

Of course; that was merely an example of how saving a single life may not have been worth expending 66 million dollars. Feel free to substitute any transportation related option that would save lives you can think of. EG: for that kind of money you could install upwards of 2,200 pedestrian controlled traffic signals. Surely careful selection of intersections in the bay area could save more than a single life with 2,200 traffic signals.

Sorry it just poked one of my peeves. Variations of "If it'll save one life it'll be worth it" sentiment are often stated but in a lot of cases it's simply not true by any objective measure. However the reasons it's not true don't fit into an nice emotional sound bite but rather are nuanced trade offs between less bad choices forced on us by limited resources.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 PM on March 27


Maybe the Oakland Bay Bridge.

People don't jump off the Bay Bridge because there's no pedestrian access. It is purely for driving across, not walking across. If you try to walk onto it, you will be arrested or killed by a car long before you get to a bit that's high enough to jump from. If you want to commit suicide by being hit by a car, all you have to do here is cross a damn street, no bridge required.

The last thread we did about this people were wondering why no one ever jumped from the west side of the GG, and it's because pedestrians are only allowed on the east sidewalk. It's not that everyone wants to go out looking at Alcatraz and the East Bay hills and the city; it's because they'd need a bike to get on the west side walk, and apparently very few or no people who jump off the bridge want to bike to do so.
posted by rtha at 9:11 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


People don't jump off the Bay Bridge because there's no pedestrian access. It is purely for driving across, not walking across.--rtha

As of a couple of weeks ago, with the newly built span, that's no longer true.
posted by eye of newt at 9:43 PM on March 27


True dat.
posted by rtha at 10:17 PM on March 27


You still can't walk across the Bay Bridge from the SF side, though -- the pedestrian/bike access only extends to Treasure Island.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:18 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]


But then why do people go to the GGB at all? There's no shortage of tall buildings or overpasses in SF.

--Because it's a more beautiful way to go.
--Because jumping off a building or bridge probably has a far higher likelihood of failure/intervention/injury.
--To traumatize others less.
posted by Muffpub at 5:32 AM on March 28


--Because jumping off a building or bridge probably has a far higher likelihood of failure/intervention/injury.

It may be the reverse actually. The Golden Gate Bridge is well patrolled and far more many suicides have been stopped there than have succeeded. I'll bet it's often the choice for people hoping for an intervention.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:59 AM on March 28


> Also, “Sticking one’s head in the oven” declined over a 20 year period, and ovens are extremely commonplace, meaning the NYT article does not provide strong evidence either.

See this chart from the article Suicide in England and Wales 1861–2007: a time-trends analysis.

From the mid 60s to the mid-late 70s you can see a sharp decline in gassing suicides (especially in females), with no corresponding rise in other methods. The is the same period during which the UK switched from coal to natural gas. Note that there doesn't seem to be any corresponding rise in other methods. You may notice that the suicides by gassing stays higher in males, the article suggests that these males substituted the oven gassing to gassing by car.

Also note that the introduction of gassing as a method pretty much coincides with the introduction of domestic gas, and that the rise of gassing as a method did not coincide with a decline of other methods.


I uploaded that chart to imgur because it was stuffed inside a MS Word document for some reason.
posted by bjrn at 9:27 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]


I share emptythought's reservations. I get that on some level we should make decisions based on these kinds of calculations. But I think that this approach will not solve the root cause -- which I would argue is a culture that remains willfully blind and ignorant to depression.

Changing this culture requires raising awareness, changing beliefs, building knowledge, and adjusting behaviors. Making those changes on a societal level is hard and very expensive. Building the net on a high profile location like the Golden Gate is guaranteed to generate awareness that simply cannot be bought. Look at the buzz generated just from talking about the possibility. A flurry of news stories when the decision is made. Maybe more when construction starts or the net is "unveiled." Maybe some local profiles of people who patrol the bridge to stop jumpers. And then 15 years later someone asks, "hey what's that net" and they find some details on their smart phone.

The value of the net is more than the number of lives it will save at the bridge. This is the most common place in North America for people to come and kill themselves. That makes it the most important location in North America for a suicide barrier -- because of its visibility AND because of the lives the net may save.
posted by cubby at 6:19 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


What’s Really Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic?
Seiden’s conclusion was that many suicides are the result of impulsive thoughts—“I want to jump off that bridge”—and if you can stop that one action, you can save potential victims from suicide for the rest of their lives. People do not become inherently “suicidal;” they have times where they feel suicidal.

And yet, since 1999, there has been a consistent annual increase in suicides all the way up to the end of 2013—and there’s no sign of slowing. What’s different now?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:50 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Of course the suicide rate in the highest demographic now runs at 19 out of 100,000 per year (up from 12), so ... statistical significance is hard to come by.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:38 PM on April 5


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