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Suicide is not painless
November 2, 2005 10:23 AM   Subscribe

A Survivor's Story "All of a sudden, hands were grabbing him, hauling him up, laying him on a board. A man in uniform -- it was the Coast Guard that rescued him -- was asking questions. 'What did you do?' 'I jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.' 'Why?' 'I wanted to kill myself.' " Fourth in a seven-part series on Golden Gate Bridge suicides. A follow-up to this post.
posted by echolalia67 (48 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
As the bridge would look better without a barricade, so is society better without hatred and harassment, which lead directly to ostracization and depression.
posted by nervousfritz at 10:39 AM on November 2, 2005


Given what his mother mentioned about the money being better spent on treatment programs, I'm not sure if I support a barrier or not (I may just not care for that matter). However, why is it always assumed that a barrier will be unattractive or detract from the appearance of the bridge. If we placed a horizontal jump barrier 20 feet below the surface of the bridge it'd be almost invisible from the bridge itself. Alternatively, a vertical lexan barrier could be placed next to the walkway.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2005


Funny, a suicide fence is also a big debate right now in my town.
posted by JanetLand at 10:57 AM on November 2, 2005


I think you meant a follow-up to this post.
posted by mkultra at 10:58 AM on November 2, 2005


A big sheet of dirty (and it would get horribly grimy) Lexan would be atrocious.
posted by zeoslap at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2005


We here in Toronto had the same debate over the Bloor Street Viaduct, which at the time was the second-biggest "suicide magnet" in North America. We wound up erecting a barrier, the so-called "luminous veil," which, for the record, is a butt-ugly eyesore. Did it help? I couldn't find anything on the web about Toronto's overall suicide rates, but a 2003 article in the Globe and Mail suggested that "the installation of suicide barriers has only lead to the migration to other structures in the Don Valley and has not resulted in reducing the number of suicides."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:10 AM on November 2, 2005


mkultra: I think you meant a follow-up to this post.

Yes. Dangers of posting while at work
posted by echolalia67 at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2005


The idea of a barricade being meant to do what? Help the people not commit suicide, or just keep those pesky suicides away from a pretty bridge? If it's the former, that's ridiculous, people will just walk somewhere else and jump off/shoot themselves/hang themselves/etc etc.

Seems sort of silly to really talk of a barricade as some like solution to the real problem.
posted by xmutex at 11:12 AM on November 2, 2005


If we placed a horizontal jump barrier 20 feet below the surface of the bridge

Couldn't you then jump down to the barrier then off the edge of it? Unless they electrified it with a lethal voltage...never mind.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 11:12 AM on November 2, 2005


The Card Cheat: eyesore? I respectfully disagree. I think the veil looks fantastic:

However I'm not surprised it hasn't reduced overall suicide rates. I always thought these things were put up to protect motorists underneath.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:16 AM on November 2, 2005


The idea of a barricade being meant to do what? Help the people not commit suicide, or just keep those pesky suicides away from a pretty bridge? If it's the former, that's ridiculous, people will just walk somewhere else and jump off/shoot themselves/hang themselves/etc etc.

If you read the previous days' articles, you'll see that they're trying to prevent those people who use the GGB as an iconic place to commit suicide. Oh, and those who jump impulsively. In my opinion, if it saves only 1 person a year, it's worth it.
posted by elquien at 11:20 AM on November 2, 2005


there are easier and less expensive ways to save 1 person a year, elquien.
posted by pmbuko at 11:27 AM on November 2, 2005


The SF Gate article mentions the Bloor Viaduct. They claim that it reduced suicide rates - jumpers don't go jump elsewhere, they go get help instead. They don't have any references, but that's what they say.
posted by GuyZero at 11:30 AM on November 2, 2005


Exactly. It's all about impulse. A kid at the high school I worked at in San Francisco jumped off and killed himself, and it seemed quite likely he was having a shitty day/time, and it was the easiest way. Other ways - guns, razors, etc - are much more visceral and in-your-face, whereas slipping over a rail without looking down could be much easier. I think the point is to have a giant "THINK ABOUT IT" barrier.
posted by ORthey at 11:30 AM on November 2, 2005


there are easier and less expensive ways to save 1 person a year, elquien.

I'm pretty sure that the city wouldn't install the barrier if they thought it wouldn't be effective. I'm just saying that sacrificing some of the bridge's grandeur to save lives seems like a worthy cause.
posted by elquien at 11:33 AM on November 2, 2005


so is he paralyzed or not?
posted by radiosig at 11:45 AM on November 2, 2005


eyesore? I respectfully disagree.

Statues, bridges, tall buildings, all of them are physical constructs which celebrate human ideals. Maybe a barricade could be artistically conceived and evoke care and concern somehow. Who knows.
posted by nervousfritz at 11:52 AM on November 2, 2005


To each their own, Popular Ethics. Leaving aside for the moment the debate of whether it does or does not reduce suicides in the city of Toronto, I feel that it has made crossing the Viaduct a less pleasant experience.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:59 AM on November 2, 2005


I'm pretty sure that the city wouldn't install the barrier if they thought it wouldn't be effective.

Ah, I remember my idealistic days, too. They were quite nice. I won't dispel your idealism by pointing to things like "airport security" and other acts which are known to be ineffective yet done for the sheer need to 'do something'.

Personal freedom is also the freedom to hurl yourself off a bridge, unfortunately enough.
posted by unixrat at 12:01 PM on November 2, 2005


Yeah, I think this is more about a city protecting its landmarks from becoming associated with public suicide than it is protecting people from killing themselves.
posted by xmutex at 12:11 PM on November 2, 2005


Everytime I see the Bloor Viaduct lit up at night I can't help but see the supports as Christian crosses. Maybe it's the idea that they're there to "save" people.
posted by maledictory at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2005


Mm, how many human lives is the reputation of the Golden Gate Bridge worth? As you are saying that the latter is more highly esteemed by the city of SF.
posted by nervousfritz at 12:19 PM on November 2, 2005


I'm pretty sure that the city wouldn't install the barrier if they thought it wouldn't be effective. - elquien

Don't be fooled into thinking that all government action is because it's actually a good idea. There's plenty of reasons for government action or inaction that are unrelated to the best interests of the people they are paid ro represent.

Or, what unixrat said.
posted by raedyn at 12:20 PM on November 2, 2005


Audio interview [MP3] with the coroner who deals with most of the jumpers (and who supports a barrier).
Some people seem to think that jumping off the bridge is a light, airy way to end your life, like going to join the angels," said Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes, talking in the reception area of the coroner's office in San Rafael. "I'd like to dispel that myth. When you jump off the bridge, you hit the water hard. It's not a pretty death."
It's basically like getting hit by a car, except if you survive the impact, you drown.

Illustration of common wounds suffered by jumpers. Locations that people have jumped from (most people jump facing the city; the view is prettier). Suicides by year (at least 1,218 suicides have been reported; an estimated 26 jumpers have survived).

One woman jumped but didn't want to feel the landing, so she jumped with a gun and shot herself in the head on the way down.

Parts one, two, and three of the series. California Highway Patrol and bridge district officers persuade about 50 people a year to not jump, including this one.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2005


Feh -- The Chronicle is once again on its high-horse about this one. They're clearly pushing for barriers, just like they were pushing for standardized fire hydrants the week before.

Their claim is that putting up the barrier won't relocate the suicides, that they'll just plain go down.

This is kind of a quixotic project for the Chron -- media attention brings more suicides to a location, as they've noted in their piece.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:37 PM on November 2, 2005


Barricades won't stop planned suicides, but then you're expecting too much of what's essentially a couple of pieces of metal. What barricades can do is make it harder for people to commit suicide on impulse; many people who jump off bridges, as noted above, do so because it's easier, less painful and more absolute than the many other ways to take one's own life. Take away that avenue and immediately it's that much harder to commit suicide. You have to find another bridge, or think about the other ways that were so unpalatable to you earlier.

I guess I just don't see the argument against barriers. Funding a barrier isn't a zero-sum proposition; of course a barricade has to work in conjunction with improved social health measures and community support. But that's like saying, "well, we put those crisis phones on the bridge and people are still jumping; I guess they don't work." Each part of the puzzle addresses different issues. The barrier and the phones are last-ditch measures; community support is preventative. You wouldn't build a health care system with just one form of patient care; why should suicide prevention be any different?

And as to the ugliness of any proposed barricade, two things. One, I think a history of suicide isn't exactly glamorous either. Two, I happen to be a fan of the Bloor Viaduct barrier; driving underneath the viaduct at night on the DVP, the barrier is almost a thing of beauty. I suppose that in the cold light of day, and close up, it might not have the "luminious veil" effect you get from afar, but I appreciate its presence on an aesthetic level as well as a functional one.
posted by chrominance at 12:41 PM on November 2, 2005


(re: why bridge suicides: or perceived to be less painful, in that people either imagine they won't feel the landing or that death will be quick.)
posted by chrominance at 12:43 PM on November 2, 2005


It's all about impulse. A kid at the high school I worked at in San Francisco jumped off and killed himself, and it seemed quite likely he was having a shitty day/time, and it was the easiest way.

Spoken like a person who has never experienced real depression, or the worse form, suicidal depression.

Chances are the kid thought about it quite a bit more than you suspect. Often people who are depressed do their damnedest to hide it from people. That you think he made his choice as an "impulse" or because he had a "shitty day" just shows that you don't understand what it's really like to feel that way. Be glad you don't have personal knowledge of what it feels like, trust me.
posted by beth at 12:44 PM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


how not to commit suicide by Art Kleiner
posted by craniac at 12:54 PM on November 2, 2005


Just echoing beth:

I've had shitty days. Never, not even on the very worst of them, did I come close to killing myself.

Suicidal depression is not just a shitty day.
posted by raedyn at 12:56 PM on November 2, 2005


Yeah.. there's bargraphs for yearly jump rates as well as a chart of jumps by location.
posted by nervousfritz at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2005


The success stories from police officers and others talking people down are encouraging. It's not like they aren't already making a great effort to figure out who needs help. With 10 million visitors a year, it has to be hard to figure out who is likely to be in need of help but it sounds like they stop about three-fourths of the people heading onto the bridge thinking of suicide. (It said that they talk about 50 a year out of jumping and a previous article said that an average of 19 a year jump.)
posted by notmtwain at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2005


I read an article once about a building with a central atrium open to each floor that local suicides were using because it was out of the bad weather. Weird logic notwithstanding, the solution was to open a cafe in the lobby and put umbrellas at each table.

Seems suicides don't mind the idea of splattering on marble, but getting turned into giant shish-kebab was unappealing enough to make them find alternatives.

Perhaps instead of a barrier, the bridge only needs a few cables strung below and media coverage of their usefullness in "chopping up" ice falling from the bridge to help prevent damage to boats passing below.
posted by Crosius at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2005


Crosius: the building I work in has two towers and a central atrium with walkways between towers. Several years back the walkways were closed except to employees with security passes due to the suicide rate. Now they're closed to everyone, because an employee whose ex-wife also worked in the building decided to jump, right on closing time as many people were leaving work. I wonder if they would consider the umbrella idea.

Interesting article, craniac.
posted by andraste at 2:40 PM on November 2, 2005


Well, I'll speak as someone who has experienced crippling depression.* Someone who never actually attempted suicide, but who did spend too much time contemplating it. Rejecting razor blades. Rejecting shotgun. Rejecting almost anything but sleeping pills, really. Having the pills in my possession. You know, I think I took them out once or twice and thought about if I might take them all at once, sometime, but it wasn't anything where I laid them out and got a drink ready. So somewhere in there.

In an irrational way it was comforting to have that bottle up on the shelf where I could, you know, see that I had them.

Enough of my bona fides. I don't think there was anything factually wrong with what ORthey said, except perhaps context. That kid who killed himself had probably been having a shitty life, and had more than likely thought seriously about suicide each day for weeks. Then one day there was, perhaps ironically, a burst of energy. One of the defining characteristics of depression is lethargy. You want to commit suicide, but it's so much work, you know? Prozac and other SSRIs have been associated with slightly higher incidence of suicide during early use. The theory is that it helps you form the suicidal ideation, the concrete plan, and execute it. For once, you're achieving a goal!

So there is an element of impulse, as well as a deep-seated desire to die. The bridge shows up in an ad, you think you'll go down there and do it today. There's the bus -- it's going near the bridge. OK, looks like it will be easy to do this today. And so forth. But put an obstacle in that loop -- there's construction, the bus breaks down, the traffic is gridlocked, you're out of bus fare -- the potential suicide is so close to some breaking point that even the slightest jack-up could dissolve that ideation, make it easier to go home and forget about it for the day.

So I support a barrier. I think it will have an effect. It may not be easily measurable across a large population, because then people won't even be thinking of using the Golden Gate Bridge in the first place. But the people drawn to Golden Gate for the "poetry" of it all will have that extra obstacle, and it will save them -- maybe not forever, but for that day.

* Years ago. I'm mostly OK these days. Thanks for asking.

Seems suicides don't mind the idea of splattering on marble, but getting turned into giant shish-kebab was unappealing enough to make them find alternatives.

Possibly. More likely, I think, is that a) the suicides don't wish to risk hurting other people, and b) the umbrellas and tables make it less certain the fall would be fatal.

Another notorious leaping-off point was NYU's Bobst Library; two years ago, they installed Lexan barriers; they're also addressing the overall problem of an increased campus suicide rate with mental wellness programs.
posted by dhartung at 5:49 PM on November 2, 2005


A lovely one in Washington DC is the Duke Ellington Bridge. Jumping was called "taking the A train" (heh), and you got to end up (down) in Rock Creek Park, very pretty. Not sure the effect of the suicide fence, put up mid-nineties AFAIR.
posted by zoinks at 6:26 PM on November 2, 2005


Perhaps they should place plaques on each of the poles containing photographs of what a fall like that does to a person's body. Something like what Canada did with cigarette packs might work.

Also, I fail to see how having security that can be bypassed by an 84 year old man with a bad hip is considered reasonable diligence for a public utility.
If somebody put a 8400 foot long row of do-it yourself guillotines in a public place with sparce guards and a 4 foot railing around it would you think that perhaps it should be better protected? what selfish impulse makes you chose form (aesthetic sensibilities) over function (unsafe public utility)

As someone who has lost a friend to suicide, I can say that anything that stopped him from killing himself that night might have given me one more day, or one more week to help him turn his life around and get help. Every second counts when it might make a difference.
posted by Megafly at 6:27 PM on November 2, 2005


what selfish impulse makes you chose form (aesthetic sensibilities) over function (unsafe public utility)

Except that the bridge does not function as your analogy states; it was not built to be a suicide machine. The fact that people are drawn to commit suicide from it is just an unfortunate side-effect of the human condition. It is not an unsafe public utility - people are not accidentally slipping to their death. They are scaling security measures to do themselves in.

The world is not safe for people, especially when they have it out for themselves.
posted by unixrat at 8:02 PM on November 2, 2005


What unixrat said. Life sucks, get a helmet.
posted by keswick at 8:50 PM on November 2, 2005


I dunno about all this. My morbid self has been reading this every morning in the paper, but I just can't get behind the idea of a barrier. First issue I have is the aforementioned aesthetics. Even if a barrier couldn't be seen from the road, its the way the bridge looks from afar that makes it such a cherished landmark. I don't want to change that, I don't want a daily reminder that we have to safety proof our world just because a few people want to hurt themselves.

Second issue I have is cost. The bridge is pretty long, I imagine that it would cost a fair amount to put up barriers on both sides, just to save a few lives a year. How about spending that money instead of things that would save the lives of people who actually want to live? Painting more bike lanes so all the cyclists have an easier chance of avoiding cars, or more police officers to stop murders, or drug rehab programs so I don't get followed by crackheads while walking through the mission at night. What about outreach programs for the depressed, cheaper counsiling and a campaign to rid the stigma of depression?

I'm sad these people died, and I'm sad for their families, but all in all I just think it's a waste of time.

For the record, I've had suicides in my immediate family (an uncle with barbituates, my grandmother and mother discovered the body), know a jumper who survived, have been diagnosed in the past with severe clinical depression, been on multiple medications, and spent many a night contemplating suicide in the past, before I pulled myself together over the last few years. So please don't accuse me of insensitivity.
posted by atom128 at 9:23 PM on November 2, 2005


The one thing I will say for the articles though, is at least they finally pushed that stupid "Alicia's Story" crap off the front page.

(And for that you can accuse me of insensitivity, and I welcome it with open arms.)

heh
posted by atom128 at 9:26 PM on November 2, 2005


I would rather they didn't erect a barrier or close the walkway. I love that bridge and would like for it to remain unchanged. How about beat cops walking the bridge, or if that's too costly, why don't suicide prevention volunteers get away from their desks/couches and walk the bridge? It's the number one suicide location in the country, so they'd be sure to thwart some suicide attempts. A few of the survivors said that any kind or caring gesture by a stranger would have made them change their mind. So that's my suggestion: one or a pair of volunteers walking the bridge in two hour shifts.

Now someone shoot me down and call me a heartless bastard.
posted by Devils Slide at 1:23 AM on November 3, 2005


This is kind of a quixotic project for the Chron -- media attention brings more suicides to a location, as they've noted in their piece.

The article states that this is untrue.
posted by agregoli at 8:07 AM on November 3, 2005


So they must be contradicting themselves somewhere - I distinctly read that in one of the pieces.
posted by agregoli at 8:25 AM on November 3, 2005


Parts four and five of the series. Arguments favoring and opposing a barrier (MP3).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:17 AM on November 3, 2005


posted by kirkaracha Locations that people have jumped from (most people jump facing the city; the view is prettier)

This is a myth. The reason most people jump from the east side (the side facing San Francisco) is because the east side of the span is for pedestrians. The west side of the span is for bicyclists.
posted by fandango_matt at 3:10 PM on November 11, 2005


Update: the blog telescreen.org (by Vidiot) highlights some unprofessional quote-lifting from the New Yorker by the Chronicle.
posted by dhartung at 11:38 PM on November 12, 2005


SF Weekly's take on the quote-lifting.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2005


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