"It's a surprise to me that this number is going up, and I don't think the public knows it."
July 31, 2007 8:59 AM   Subscribe

An inside look at who jumps. Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes has released a study of 10 years of suicide jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge. [more inside]
posted by kirkaracha (143 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The study, released on Monday by Marin County Coroner Ken Holmes, whose office handles most deaths from the bridge, showed that over 85 percent of the people who jump are Bay Area residents. The average jumper was 41.7 years old; men outnumber women nearly 3 to 1; and whites account for 83 percent of the dead, Holmes found in his review of data from January 1996 to July 26 of this year.
...
His report also noted that San Francisco and Marin counties had the highest number of victims, followed by Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties. The youngest was a 14-year-old girl and the oldest was an 84-year-old man. The report also noted that 76 percent of all jumps were witnessed by tourists or commuters.
The study is somewhat controversial because some people feel that publicizing the number of people who have jumped inspires other people to jump (Homes used to argue in favor of not disclosing the number). Holmes is a member of the Bridge Rail Foundation, which advocates installing a suicide barrier on the bridge. According to their web site, a safety railing was part of Joseph Strauss' original design for the bridge.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:59 AM on July 31, 2007


Knowing the average age and sex/race ratios are useless unless I have the same info for the general public.
posted by DU at 9:02 AM on July 31, 2007


The Sirens in the Bay are always beckoning.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 AM on July 31, 2007


Knowing the average age and sex/race ratios are useless unless I have the same info for the general public.

You do, it's called census.gov.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:08 AM on July 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Why don't they just cover the bridge and the river below in Nerf? Lord knows we gotta protect humanity from itself.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:11 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I saw the article in the Chron today, and heard about it on the radio, and I'm still at a loss as to why it's surprising that most jumpers are from the Bay area. I always understood (perhaps wildly incorrectly) that suicide is an impulsive action* for most people, and so it's never made intuitive sense to me that many people would book a plane ticket, fly out here, and make their way to the GG Bridge in order to jump off.

That said, all this dickering about whether or not to put up a suicide barrier is ridiculous. Put it up already!

* impulsive in the sense of "I'll do it now! Because I have a gun/pills/am on the bridge" etc., not impulsive in the sense that one minute you're fine, and next you want to jump.
posted by rtha at 9:12 AM on July 31, 2007


The obstinacy toward a barrier is quite interesting. It's such a blatant fuck-you to the public who has lost or stands to lose a loved-one to suicide. Eventually someone with more money/power/influence lose someone into the bay and things will change. Perhaps the fact that it's [nearly all] caucasians will transform the debate.
posted by docpops at 9:13 AM on July 31, 2007


I'm not sure I understand the leading quote.

The site says that the rate has been steady at about two per month since 1937, and cites 25 cases in 2005. That's not "going up" in any appreciable sense, and in real terms can be thought of as a steady decline.

Unless you want to argue that the bridge somehow incites people to suicide (and I am one of those people that feels the compulsion to jump off things when presented with an opportunity), I feel that this entire effort is sadly misdirected.

By the time someone is in a state where the bridge presents a risk to their life, it's too late to be making a meaningful effort to help them, and more to the point these people are too small a slice of the folks in need of help.

I have nothing constructive to offer on the topic of helping people decide whether they want to live or die - I just think that focussing on such a tiny slice and somehow almost blaming the bridge for them is grossly distorting the issue, and a disservice to people in dire emotional difficulty.
posted by nonlocal at 9:14 AM on July 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Lord knows we gotta protect humanity from itself.

In order to deter more of these horrible crimes I propose a "get tough" policy. I say we make it a capital offense!
posted by Pollomacho at 9:17 AM on July 31, 2007


A related post from 2005.
posted by TedW at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2007


nonlocal, none of what you said makes any sense at all to me. The bridge has long been identified as a place that accounts for quite a few suicides that likely would not come to fruition were there ways to block easy access to jumpers. In your calculus, how many people would need to hurl themselves to their deaths to make a one time cost of a barrier appropriate?
posted by docpops at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Conventional wisdom has it that people who commit suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge travel from around the globe to end their lives in San Francisco Bay,

Was it really? I'd never heard that before. It has a sort of perverse built in assumption though, doesn't it?

"Come to San-Fran, where our weather is nice and our bridges are high."

or

"Golden Gate: let it be your suicide vacation destination"
posted by quin at 9:20 AM on July 31, 2007


The obstinacy toward a barrier is quite interesting. It's such a blatant fuck-you

This would only be true if the Golden Gate Bridge was the only way to commit suicide that is readily available for Bay Area residents.

I'd view a barrier as an expensive device that would spoil the view a bit, while saving approximately zero point zero lives.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:20 AM on July 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


The bridge has long been identified as a place that accounts for quite a few suicides that likely would not come to fruition were there ways to block easy access to jumpers.

Is there any substantial reason to believe these people wouldn't have simply chosen an alternate route of escape, where the bridge child-proofed?
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2007


And another related recent thread.
posted by ericb at 9:28 AM on July 31, 2007


By the time someone is in a state where the bridge presents a risk to their life, it's too late to be making a meaningful effort to help them, and more to the point these people are too small a slice of the folks in need of help.

This is complete bullshit. If you knew anything about depression or other mental illnesses, you couldn't say this.

I have nothing constructive to offer on the topic...

You got that right.

Although suicide attempts often involve chronic mental health problems such as depression, the CDC researchers noted that what they called "impulsive suicide attempts" were immediately preceded by some kind of conflict. Such impulsive suicide attempts, then, don't necessarily derive from an overwhelming desire to die.
[...]
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.
posted by rtha at 9:28 AM on July 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


I'd view a barrier as an expensive device that would spoil the view a bit, while saving approximately zero point zero lives.

Except that the available objective data contradicts your presumption.
posted by docpops at 9:29 AM on July 31, 2007


Is there any substantial reason to believe these people wouldn't have simply chosen an alternate route of escape, where the bridge child-proofed?

Can't be proven, of course, but from person experience, yes. To me, the whole point of the barrier is to make jumping off the bridge far less easy. Other methods of suicide - gun, wrists, pills - can be very visceral, extremely difficult to plan and to execute, and can last a long time. Jumping off a bridge? All you really need is to be in a bad mood and act upon that impulse we've all felt to actually move a couple muscles and slide over the edge.

I worked at a high school in SF a couple years ago, and one of our seniors did just that. We'll never know for sure, but from all appearances, he was having a terrible day and wandered off towards the bridge and simply jumped off. Easy, done. Frighteningly simple.

Yeah, it's a band-aid. Yeah, the real problems are elsewhere. But also, people: it's a freaking bridge. Let's not worry so much about spoiling the pretty images (we have plenty of golden gate bridge photos already), and see if this can help.
posted by ORthey at 9:30 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


*personal experience
posted by ORthey at 9:31 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that there is such reluctance to publish information about suicides from the bridge for the stated reason of not wanting to encourage copycats. Its not as if the idea is that unusual. Of course, secrecy is a lot cheaper than building a barrier or improving access to mental health care (although I suspect San Francisco has better mental health care than many cities in the US.
posted by TedW at 9:32 AM on July 31, 2007


Anecdotally, I've dealt with suicide attempts for nearly 20 years as a med student and physician. I can think of, at most, two or three that succeeded out of several hundred attempts that we admitted for treatment. The thing is, every one was essentially an impulsive gesture no different than the jumper on the bridge. They did what was most immediate and accessible, so it was usually a pill ingestion that was easily corrected. If they had access to a bridge hundreds of feet above a roiling ocean my call would have been a shitload quieter but a whole lot sadder.
posted by docpops at 9:32 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


They shouldn't try to build a railing - seems like that would be easy to get around. Rather, I think a big net would work - something made out of a clear material so it's not visible from the street - strong enough to stop a human body as it falls.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:36 AM on July 31, 2007


As to those who worry that a barrier would spoil the view, some feel that the bridge itself spoiled the view.
posted by TedW at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Who is going to pay for it? Taxpayers?

Why not let those who want it raise the money first. If they can do that, then put it up. If they can't, then GERONIMOOOOOO!!!
posted by tadellin at 9:47 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


This issue is so divisive here in San Francisco and it cuts right across all other demographic lines.

If you want to quickly get in a screaming match with a San Franciscan, ask what they think about a suicide barrier on the Bridge and then tell them you hold the opposite view.
posted by vacapinta at 9:49 AM on July 31, 2007


Although I got a little pissed when mine was deleted (and it deserved deletion), this FPP is far superior. Thanks for posting this.
posted by sluglicker at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2007


Why not let those who want it raise the money first. If they can do that, then put it up. If they can't, then GERONIMOOOOOO!!!

As usual, you add such nuanced, informed, and compassionate commentary that promotes further dialog.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Has anyone done a cost/benefit analysis to compare the cost of the barrier versus the cost of hauling bodies out of the bay?
posted by Pollomacho at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2007


Conventional wisdom has it that people who commit suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge travel from around the globe to end their lives in San Francisco Bay

What a romantic image of suicide. Sort of paints all suicides as well fed cosmopolitans who have just been diagnosed with cancer and decide to have a whirlwind tour of the world, ending the trip and their life on that big beautiful bridge on the bay.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 9:51 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's such a blatant fuck-you to the public who has lost or stands to lose a loved-one to suicide.

No, it isn't. This argument is equivalent to the "war on terror" arguments. Not handing over all your private phone and email records is a blatant fuck-you to the the people who've lost loved ones in the World Trade Center, etc etc.

I am against the suicide barrier. I don't like anything that's supposed to protect me from myself. People wonder why Americans are so infantilized (is that a word?)- well, this kind of thing is a big part of it. I'm not responsible for myself so if anything DOES happen to me, it must be someone else's fault.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:52 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Who is going to pay for it? Taxpayers?

From a 2003 NYer article:

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.

A familiar argument against a barrier is that thwarted jumpers will simply go elsewhere. In 1953, a bridge supervisor named Mervin Lewis rejected an early proposal for a barrier by saying it was preferable that suicides jump into the Bay than dive off a building “and maybe kill somebody else.” (It’s a public-safety issue.)

posted by vacapinta at 9:52 AM on July 31, 2007


men outnumber women nearly 3 to 1

Obviously, a glass floor is stopping women from achieving equality.
posted by three blind mice at 9:57 AM on July 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


I am against the suicide barrier. I don't like anything that's supposed to protect me from myself.

How about the guy that has to haul you out of the bay and risk drowning himself? Who's going to protect him from you?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:02 AM on July 31, 2007


I don't like anything that's supposed to protect me from myself.

I take it you've sliced away all the seatbelts in your vehicles?
posted by docpops at 10:02 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Unless I'm taking crazy pills, I think there was a post on The Bridge not to long ago, but it got deleted. There are some clips from it on liveleak. They aren't exactly easy to watch, what with the suicide and all.
posted by puke & cry at 10:09 AM on July 31, 2007


Ah, here it is.
posted by puke & cry at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2007


If I were to kill myself, I would try for novelty. If possible, I would arrange a submarine to shoot me out of their torpedo tubes from deep beneath the San Francisco Bay and directly into the Golden Gate Bridge.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:12 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


...upon that impulse we've all felt to actually move a couple muscles and slide over the edge.

I don't know how widespread such an impulse is, but I can attest that it is not universal.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:12 AM on July 31, 2007


Oh, I see sluglicker already chimed in here. It pays to read all the comments, I guess.
posted by puke & cry at 10:15 AM on July 31, 2007


I don't know nothing from nothing about the divisive debate in the Bay Area, but has anyone suggested nets? Placed properly they could prevent jumpers from killing themselves without ruining the view. Nets would cost less too.

Granted, the idea is not without it's caveats, for example the determined few who'd jump with knives and cut the nets, or the possible increase of thrill seekers jumping just to say they did it...but it could advance the two main objectives. Just a suggestion.
posted by edverb at 10:18 AM on July 31, 2007


I don't like anything that's supposed to protect me from myself.

How do you feel about protecting people from themselves when they're not, you know, themselves? Like when they're suffering from a mental illness?

Who is going to pay for it? Taxpayers?

Yes. In the same way that I pay taxes that go for stuff I don't like (war, corporate welfare, etc.) that isn't even for the public good.
posted by rtha at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I take it you've sliced away all the seatbelts in your vehicles?

If I were the only driver I had to worry about I wouldn't wear one. Bad example.

How about the guy that has to haul you out of the bay and risk drowning himself? Who's going to protect him from you?

Society shouldn't be planned around not inconveniencing the service personnel.

Also, if you do it at the right spot at the right tide, you get washed out and they don't find you. Maybe they should publicize that information- it would take care of your concern.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:23 AM on July 31, 2007


How do you feel about protecting people from themselves when they're not, you know, themselves? Like when they're suffering from a mental illness?

Truthfully, I'm pretty ambivalent about it, though it depends on the mental illness. Protecting other people from someone who's mentally ill is a different story, but that's not what we're talking about here.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:25 AM on July 31, 2007


Pollomacho writes "How about the guy that has to haul you out of the bay and risk drowning himself? Who's going to protect him from you?"

Who is that guy? Maybe we should try to help him.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:26 AM on July 31, 2007


If I were the only driver I had to worry about I wouldn't wear one. Bad example.

I think a better comparison would be disabling safety features on power tools before you use them. Now that's hardcore.
posted by puke & cry at 10:28 AM on July 31, 2007


If I were the only driver I had to worry about I wouldn't wear one. Bad example.

No, because modern vehicle construction is such that you'll likely survive whatever accident you're in and the rest of society gets to fund the cost of your hospital care and rehab. There are real dollars and cents arguments to be made for the sorts of decisions that you see as unnecessarily coddling society.
posted by docpops at 10:30 AM on July 31, 2007


Society shouldn't be planned around not inconveniencing the service personnel.

All right, how about the cost of not hauling your corpse out of the bay and the disease you cause by washing up on shore.

Who is that guy? Maybe we should try to help him.

Ew, and touch dead people? No thanks.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:37 AM on July 31, 2007


don't worry- I don't have a modern vehicle. And I have a AMD that tells people not to go to any extraordinary lengths. Everyone also gets any organs they might be interested in, along with my comic book collection. That's the best I can do.

Financial cost-benefit analysis should not be a primary influence in shaping society.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:40 AM on July 31, 2007


How about the guy that has to haul you out of the bay

Oddly, I do have a friend whose job this is.

posted by small_ruminant at 10:41 AM on July 31, 2007


My review of The Bridge.
posted by muckster at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2007


Pollomacho writes "Ew, and touch dead people? No thanks."

Yeah ...

My point is that, if the recovery operation is that hazardous that we would base other policies on how it's affected, maybe we should work on making it safer for the rescue workers to fish a dead body out of the Bay. As for those who live, why not charge them for the effort, like what happens when a search and rescue operation has to find campers who got lost and ignored safety precautions?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:44 AM on July 31, 2007


docpops writes "No, because modern vehicle construction is such that you'll likely survive whatever accident you're in and the rest of society gets to fund the cost of your hospital care and rehab. There are real dollars and cents arguments to be made for the sorts of decisions that you see as unnecessarily coddling society."

That has more to do with our healthcare system than anything. What if I have excellent insurance?
posted by krinklyfig at 10:46 AM on July 31, 2007


Quote: It's such a blatant fuck-you to the public who has lost or stands to lose a loved-one to suicide.

I write as someone who has struggled with depression and lost two people to suicide. I also write as someone who loves the feeling of being able to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge and thrill to an unencumbered view of fog, sea, sky and hills.

This issue has been largely driven by compelling emotional appeals by the victims' families, which are both poignant and powerful. But as in any other situation, they are not and should not be the basis of sound public policy.

Condoms don't make people have sex, and a bridge doesn't make someone commit suicide. Firearms, suffocation, and poisoning are by far the leading causes of suicide. This is a waste of money and energy that should be directed to more comprehensive and effective efforts to address depression as an important public health issue, such as the destigmatization of mental illness, health education and outreach, and the passage of gun control legislation (such as background checks and 7-day waiting periods).
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:00 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've pinned back the safety actuator on my nail gun. Just because I wanted to use it to shoot at a sheet of plywood in a semi-automatic mode.

See, I told you I was hardcore.
posted by quin at 11:00 AM on July 31, 2007


What if I have excellent insurance?
The insurer just passes the costs on to premium-paying subscribers, or the taxpayers at large if you are indigent.
posted by docpops at 11:02 AM on July 31, 2007


foxy_hedgehog writes "This is a waste of money and energy that should be directed to more comprehensive and effective efforts to address depression as an important public health issue"

Yeah, that's the point I was trying to get around to. Putting up a barrier on the bridge would be hugely expensive and save very few lives for the cost, plus it does nothing to address the underlying issues, only a visible symptom.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:04 AM on July 31, 2007


Funny how nobody talks about the Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct anymore, which was the second highest spot for suicides in North America. They spent millions building this barrier which has stopped suicides at that location but studies since haven't shown it to reduce overall suicides, and suicides at other bridges in Toronto like Leaside have gone up.

Sure, people are impulsive and if you stop someone at a bridge perhaps 94% won't go on to kill themselves, the problem is that there was so much publicity over the barrier at the Bloor Street Viaduct that people who want to commit suicide don't go there in the first place. Colossal waste of money, a noble failure but still a waste of money that would probably be better spent on mental health services.
posted by bobo123 at 11:06 AM on July 31, 2007


docpops writes "The insurer just passes the costs on to premium-paying subscribers, or the taxpayers at large if you are indigent."

Just the same if I ignore my doctor's advice.

Anyway, is this really about cost? How many lives would be saved for the money spent on a barrier, as opposed to better mental health facilities and universal coverage?
posted by krinklyfig at 11:08 AM on July 31, 2007


I think what's so appalling about this is the idea that anything short of a Christo-inspired giant plastic dog-shit floating in the bay would really have a deleterious effect on the aesthetically sublime environs of the region. The idea that a barrier would somehow impact the beauty of the area is just complete horseshit. There are hundreds of view-points in and around the city that are breathtaking. This is just a reason for people to trot out their various philosophies of where they stand on helping the weak and less fortunate, and as usual, once one ceases to be a fetus the larger society really, truly could care less if you live or die if it is going to have an effect on their constricted notions of propriety.
posted by docpops at 11:14 AM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Cost? That's a secondary consideration at best. The argument is between risk and aesthetics. Do you want a safe but dull and ugly bridge or a magnificent one people can kill themselves from?
posted by bonehead at 11:17 AM on July 31, 2007


or, to put it bluntly, is a good looknig bridge worth 30 to 40 lives a year?
posted by bonehead at 11:18 AM on July 31, 2007


Anyway, is this really about cost? How many lives would be saved for the money spent on a barrier, as opposed to better mental health facilities and universal coverage?

This issue always gets framed as either/or. I suppose that how things are out here in the Real World, but I hate it. There should be a barrier and there should be better outreach, treatment, and coverage.
posted by rtha at 11:23 AM on July 31, 2007


bonehead, did you read bobo123's comment right above yours? There's no saying that putting up an ugly, expensive, patronizing barrier will decrease the overall number.

docpops, there is nothing in the Bay Area that's comparable to the Golden Gate Bridge experience as it is right now. And bringing fetuses aka the abortion debate into this conversation is ... absurd, to put it charitably.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:30 AM on July 31, 2007


When are you creatures going to understand? You aren't animals, wandering aimlessly, living aimlessly, dying aimlessly, with no value aside from whatever can be extracted from the carcass.

You are human, and that means you belong to something greater than yourself -- you belong to me.

I assign value to your life. I alone determine when you will be expended, and toward what end. Your tasks are to produce, consume, and die on command.

Suicide robs you of the value I have assigned to you. It robs you of the chance to complete the tasks I have given to you. It robs me of your utility, and thus it is truly monstrous.

Choice is not relevant. Obedience is the only morality.
posted by aramaic at 11:35 AM on July 31, 2007 [5 favorites]


vacapinta: "This issue is so divisive here in San Francisco and it cuts right across all other demographic lines."

I've lost friends over this issue. I don't know why this particular topic always cuts straight through civility and hits something in our reptilian brain that says if someone doesn't agree with you, they are despicable people. But I just can't reconcile the cognitive dissonance.

I recognize how illogical it is of me, and I don't like how extremist it makes me feel--I don't even feel this strongly about abortion.
posted by danny the boy at 11:36 AM on July 31, 2007


This is just a reason for people to trot out their various philosophies of where they stand on helping the weak and less fortunate, and as usual, once one ceases to be a fetus the larger society really, truly could care less if you live or die if it is going to have an effect on their constricted notions of propriety.

That's not what I'm reading here from people who oppose or feel ambivalent about the barrier. I certainly don't see myself as a person or my words as a poster reflected in your comment.

If you're going to dismiss other people's arguments, you should critique their reasoning and pick apart the elements of their logic. Hyperbole and ad hominems doesn't get us anywhere.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:37 AM on July 31, 2007


I have a mental disorder that places me at a high risk of suicide (I was even an inch away from jumping off one of Portland's bridges last year), and I still don't really understand why it's society's job to keep me from offing myself when I feel the time is right. Society is perfectly happy to let me starve to death, or freeze to death, but when it comes to actually taking my life in my own hands, then it's time to get involved? San Francisco should start taking care of the people who want to live and then when they're all settled and have places to live and food to eat, start worrying about the people who don't.
posted by cmonkey at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2007 [10 favorites]


Somewhere buried in the coroner's figures is one of my closest friends, Emil. He had a long-brewing depression, worsened by 9/11, but the circumstances of his suicide suggest that if it had been harder to jump, he might not have succeeded in killing himself that day. Would he still be alive today? I can't quite imagine him shooting himself. But who knows.

I say, build the barrier, and use the Bay Area's famous technical expertise to make it as view-friendly as possible.
posted by digaman at 11:44 AM on July 31, 2007


I think the best idea that has come about for preventing suicides from the GG Bridge is the implementation of suicide hotline phones all up and down the bridge. I'd like to see some statistics about how much those get used, whether it actually helps, etc. Because it seems like that's at least trying to get to the root of the problem that the individual is having.

I'm honestly not sure how well barriers would work. I do like those phones, though; that concept resonates with me, somehow.
posted by Brak at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2007


I dunno, small_ruminant. I don't often agree with docpops, but he makes a pretty good point there, mentioning how society as a whole doesn't care much about people once they're out in the world in some form.

Cost to society or cost in general isn't considered an issue for the hystrionics centered around the wombed or potentially-wombed. Maybe it should be.

Maybe it's not that we shouldn't cost things out at all, but that we should start costing things out earlier, so that everything can be based on financial impact divided by individuals, cities, and even up to society as a whole.

I mean, if we can justify a few folks offing themselves every day in order to swallow how miniscule their other options remain in the 21st century by considering the numbers and the aesthetics, we should be able to justify everything else the same way.

Right?
posted by batmonkey at 11:52 AM on July 31, 2007


How about this for an explanation then, of why I find people who oppose the barrier so distasteful.

I was at a party where I overheard someone talking about an unexecuted suicide attempt at (surprisingly) the Bay Bridge. He was complaining that his commute home was lengthened by a few hours because of the jumper, and he claimed that the total amount of time this guy wasted, multiplied by however many commuters were inconvenienced, "cost" more than his life. Party guy basically said his life wasn't worth the trouble it caused everyone else, and he should've just jumped.

It makes me sad that this seems to be the prevailing attitude in American society, but particularly in a place like San Francisco, where we otherwise seem to be more concerned, than average, about each other's welfare. I don't want to live in a society where someone's convenience is more important than someone's life.

I don't want to know people like party guy.

And I doubt he was serious, or at least would've been serious enough to, say, push the jumper off the bridge. But what's the difference? It seems that black and white to me.
posted by danny the boy at 11:57 AM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


I am against the suicide barrier. I don't like anything that's supposed to protect me from myself.

How about the guy that has to haul you out of the bay and risk drowning himself? Who's going to protect him from you?


Out of curiousity, how many people hauling bodies out of the bay near that bridge have died by drowning?
posted by the other side at 12:03 PM on July 31, 2007


If they suicide-proofed the Golden Gate, couldn't people just jump off the Bay Bridge (Which I see was mentioned by danny the boy, on preview)? I guess I don't buy into the idea that this specific bridge is unique in its ability to kill you should you jump off.
posted by mikeh at 12:05 PM on July 31, 2007


I suppose a determined person could jump off the Bay Bridge, but there's no pedestrian access the way there is on the GG. The Bay Bridge is vehicle-only.
posted by rtha at 12:20 PM on July 31, 2007


The idea that a barrier would somehow impact the beauty of the area is just complete horseshit.

Here in NYC we have various barriers and fences on some of our famous bridges, and they can really ruin the view from the bridge.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:25 PM on July 31, 2007


Out of curiousity, how many people hauling bodies out of the bay near that bridge have died by drowning?

As someone who knew someone who jumped off the GG Bridge, it's really the people around the person who jumped whose lives are ruined even more tragically. I've seen how it can ruin people and I know how strongly it affected me, even though the deceased wasn't a close friend. His death screwed up even people who didn't know him... for example the innocent people who found his body during a nice day of fishing.

The Bay Bridge is not a walking bridge, it's cars only. Also, it's not iconic - as a matter of fact, they're rebuilding it right now. The Oakland Bridge doesn't have the same romanticized view and history as the GG so it doesn't hold appeal for depressed people in the midst of inner drama. It just doesn't offer the same grandiose statement.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:26 PM on July 31, 2007


Here in NYC we have various barriers and fences on some of our famous bridges, and they can really ruin the view from the bridge.

And yet somehow people manage to soldier on...
posted by docpops at 12:29 PM on July 31, 2007


I'm so glad this post didn't devolve into the same old GG bridge-barrier argument we've had here several times before ... loloma.

The Sirens in the Bay are always beckoning.

Wrong. The main conclusion of this study is that people DO NOT travel to the Golden Gate Bridge to kill themselves. The vast majority (over 85%) live in the Bay Area.

However, maybe that's b/c the people who come to SF to kill themselves change their minds once they get here. See: Chance Martin.

In your calculus, how many people would need to hurl themselves to their deaths to make a one time cost of a barrier appropriate?

I dunno. A million? We have no shortage of humans right now. That could change, but I see no immediate need for a barrier. I'm also not convinced it would lower the SF suicide rate anyway, or even stop GG suicides much. Just my2c.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:35 PM on July 31, 2007


danny the boy writes "He was complaining that his commute home was lengthened by a few hours because of the jumper, and he claimed that the total amount of time this guy wasted, multiplied by however many commuters were inconvenienced, 'cost' more than his life. Party guy basically said his life wasn't worth the trouble it caused everyone else, and he should've just jumped."

Yeah, but that works both ways. If cost is an issue, as in how much does a suicide cost society vs. the price of the barrier, then these factors come into play.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:44 PM on July 31, 2007


mrgrimm "I see no immediate need for a barrier. I'm also not convinced it would lower the SF suicide rate anyway, or even stop GG suicides much. Just my2c."

I don't get the denial. You're saying that if they put a barrier that prevented people from jumping off the GG, that wouldn't stop people from jumping off the GG?

(It's not like it's hard to put something up that will make it impossible or near impossible to get through. It's been done elsewhere...)

And even though each time this conversation comes up, people bring out the studies that show very few people who are prevented from jumping actually end up killing themselves via another means, you're still not convinced it would lower the suicide rate?

So statistical evidence isn't enough to change your opinion, and neither is physical reality... what is?
posted by danny the boy at 12:51 PM on July 31, 2007


An article on this topic from The New Yorker that will always stick with me - Chillingly, survivors report they regretted their decision mid-fall.
posted by Jaie at 12:59 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe the most cost-effective/non-traffic causing solution would be to have some legal method of being "shut off".
posted by stifford at 1:25 PM on July 31, 2007


Jaie, thanks for posting (or reposting) that article. I have the feeling I've seen it before but had forgotten its points.

I'd say that the New Yorker article makes it fairly clear that barriers prevent a number of suicides from happening as the risk diminishes after the immediacy of an attempt is over, and that a number of suicides that are prevented at that moment result in individuals never taking their own lives. Therefore, a number of people w

cmonkey's comment makes it seem as if those with depression, which can be a disease in itself, are somehow less valuable. Yes, at the moment of a suicide attempt a depressed person does not want to live. But denying them our best efforts is as logical as denying a cancer patient treatment. Psychological illnesses are no less deadly than physical ones, and as cancer can go into remission, depression can be treated.


docpops, there is nothing in the Bay Area that's comparable to the Golden Gate Bridge experience as it is right now.


There are many joys that are not worth the cost. I can't believe that there are no options that would make suicide from the bridge more difficult while keeping most of the view.
posted by mikeh at 1:47 PM on July 31, 2007


Whoops, poor editing. My paragraph should end, "Therefore, a number of people would still be alive should the bridge have a more effective barrier."
posted by mikeh at 1:48 PM on July 31, 2007


My best friend jumped a year ago this month. Three months after getting out of his mandatory week in the psych unit after an OD on what ever pills and booze he could find in his house. He really wanted to die. I'm not against a barrier - but I know that it wouldn't have stopped him.
He was severely mentally ill. Much more than I ever knew - and there was no one I thought I knew better. No amount of therapy, meds or stays in psych units was ever going to end his suffering. He tried, and tried and then tried some more. It's the one thing the soothes the wound left by his leaving us - he's not suffering anymore.
stifford raises an interesting point- i think for some people with untreatable illnesses - be they of the mind or the body - there should be a legal way for them to end their lives. It saddens me that we often give palliatives to these people that "it will get better" - when for so many - and not for lack of trying - it just doesn't.
posted by Wolfie at 2:01 PM on July 31, 2007


Sorry about your friend, Wolfie.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:13 PM on July 31, 2007


cmonkey's comment makes it seem as if those with depression, which can be a disease in itself, are somehow less valuable.

I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that the $X million that would be spent on a suicide barrier and the associated upkeep and trimmings to only deter 30 or 40 determined people a year would be far better spent on feeding or sheltering people who fight to survive every day or, and I know this is going to sound totally nuts, providing mental health care to people who can't afford it before they become suicide risks.
posted by cmonkey at 2:28 PM on July 31, 2007


More of this story after the jump.

sorry
posted by zippy at 2:38 PM on July 31, 2007


Maybe the most cost-effective/non-traffic causing solution would be to have some legal method of being "shut off".

I have been thinking about that exact same idea for a while. A suicide help center that will actually help you commit suicide. Mental health care facilities could run it as a free clinic with a 10 day hospital stay and free lodging, food, the works. Give people some counseling and what not, make sure that people really want to die, then harvest everything that is reusable, and put it into healthy people who want to live. If you can get past the cold, insensitive prick part of it this could actually be a good solution and it could allow the mental health facilities to function with loads of extra income (from sold organs), possibly even increasing their care level.
posted by hexxed at 2:39 PM on July 31, 2007


I was thinking of an even longer "waiting period", like you file for "shut down" a year ahead of time, and if you still felt like doing it a year later, then fine. If at any point you wanted to cancel, it's all good. This would give people a chance to seek help, show their intentions are "real" (to folks that thought they were only seeking attention), and maybe even allow for events in their life to take a turn for the better. But I did also think that there should be some mandatory rule that you have to donate your organs,etc. I guess you might also have to have some rule that your finances had to be in order beforehand (so people wouldn't run up credit card debts intentionally, and then "check out").
posted by stifford at 2:53 PM on July 31, 2007


I think a lot of this can be prevented if we started treating mental illness like physical illness.

Take a typical office conversation something like "yeah, I had this chest infection I just couldn't shake.. went to the doctor, got some meds and now I feel way better".

Subsitute "depression" for "chest infection" and you have a much more difficult conversation. If getting help for mental illness was that easy, and had the same implications for one's reputation and well-being as perceived by outsiders I think many people would be in much better overall health and would never get to the bridge.
posted by Deep Dish at 3:08 PM on July 31, 2007


stifford, I did know someone who made contracts with himself similar to what you describe. For instance, he wouldn't kill himself before 11/1/2007. Then, on 11/1, if he wasn't inclined towards suicide, he'd make another contract with himself, for another 6 months or so. We lost touch, but I think I'd have heard if he'd killed himself.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:10 PM on July 31, 2007


Jaie, that article was amazing. Thanks for linking!
posted by iamkimiam at 3:12 PM on July 31, 2007


I think a lot of this can be prevented if we started treating mental illness like physical illness.


I have limited expirence with treated mental disorders, but I have always been under the impression that taking the pills makes depression "all better" just like meds for a chest infection. The problem being that the person on the depression meds just doen't take the pills, or am I entirely wrong?
posted by hexxed at 3:20 PM on July 31, 2007


I love the net idea. I can see the headline:

"Local performance artist retrieved from Golden Gate Net. Again."

Hey, that could become real estate! Or maybe we could put the homeless there!
posted by YoBananaBoy at 3:21 PM on July 31, 2007


doen't = does not sorry
posted by hexxed at 3:22 PM on July 31, 2007


Hexxed I may have used awkward phrasing.. I just meant that people should view mental illness the way they view physical illness - just as a fairly normal part of life. Not really sure on the specifics of treatment tho...
posted by Deep Dish at 3:23 PM on July 31, 2007


Sometimes a suicide barrier isn't a structure. From the NYer article:

Motto had a patient who committed suicide from the Golden Gate in 1963, but the jump that affected him most occurred in the seventies. “I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner,” he told me. “The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’ ”

Be kind do each other, people.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


Be kind and do each other, people.

Fixed that for you.
posted by Kwine at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Kwine: well, you never can tell what a smile will lead to, now can you?
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:31 PM on July 31, 2007


thanks miss lynster. i've seen you talk about the person you knew who jumped and often wondered if it was my friend - he had a massive worldwide social network. As someone saw my friend jump and the coast guard went and fished him out right away - no fisherman involved - sounds like it's not.

and hexxed - I think that is a great thought - that there are meds that work on mental illness for everyone - all they have to do is take them but I don't think that's true. Even if medications are found that help with a person's mental illness - they are rarely a magic bullet. I've heard that for as awful as it is to be an unmedicated schizophrenic, many find the feeling of the meds that control their disease to be intolerable.
posted by Wolfie at 4:22 PM on July 31, 2007


Medications for mental illnesses definitely do not make their sufferers "all better".

In fact, as Wolfie pointed out, many of the medications currently prescribed for mental illness make the sufferers feel even worse.
posted by batmonkey at 4:50 PM on July 31, 2007


From the article: "A race to be the 500th jumper occurred in October 1973."

Damn, in 1973 I was still hoping I could grow a 'Fro just like Michael's (if not Germaine's). I guess I'm not THAT old.
posted by davy at 5:29 PM on July 31, 2007


Man, a net would just make the bridge even more of a tourist attraction. That would be awesome.
posted by graventy at 9:14 PM on July 31, 2007


No, because modern vehicle construction is such that you'll likely survive whatever accident you're in and the rest of society gets to fund the cost of your hospital care and rehab. There are real dollars and cents arguments to be made for the sorts of decisions that you see as unnecessarily coddling society.

A perfect example of why universal healthcare is such a dangerous concept in our society; there'd really be no end to how far you could take the meddling. If that's the cost of a coddling society, then I think we should end the coddling. The cost is too high.

Chillingly, survivors report they regretted their decision mid-fall.

Most people who do really dumb things have an epiphany like that. But usually it's right after the Moment of Stupid. Reminds me of a frat-boy friend I once knew, discussing the line of thought that caused him to put his head through a plate-glass window on a lark. His analysis: "Yeah...I immediately regretted that decision."

A suicide help center that will actually help you commit suicide.

But would it cost a quarter?
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:29 PM on July 31, 2007


I really think, as someone who has faced the demons of depression and come back from it, that this is something the families and friends who are left behind want to happen. They feel this helpless need to do *something* so that others won't have to go through what they have gone through.

The thing is, it won't really stop the suicides, or even make them less likely. I'm sorry, it would be great if it did, but it won't.

People who oppose this probably haven't suffered personally from losing a loved one to suicide, that's true. But that doesn't mean they don't empathize.

It just means that they can see beyond the emotion to the other side, where logic kicks in and tells them the truth: mental illness isn't something you can get rid of with a safety net or a barrier. It doesn't make sense, and it probably never will. People die for no reason, when they should go on living. They just give up rather than face one more day. It's not fair, and it's not right, but it's what happens.

Of course you don't want people to die senselessly. Of course you think, "Not on my watch. If I can save even one life, it will be worthwhile." And as long as you realize that you are really doing this for yourself, to make yourself feel better, then go ahead and build a barrier if that's what it takes.

I honestly believe, though, that when it's come down to that, when the plan is made and that person is determined to die, if he hasn't already reached out and found someone to help him by the time he makes his move, it's way too late for some man-made barrier to make him pause.
posted by misha at 10:35 PM on July 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


And hexxed--medication for depression doesn't make the sufferer "all better". It usually helps in the sense that there is a greater objectivity, a way of seeing the negative thoughts and stopping them before they become so overwhelming that they take over. Frequently, that's all it takes for the person to at least handle the daily routine of life.

But even on medication, a person with a tendency for depression can always be bowled over again by a death or a divorce or similar stressful life event, and if he doesn't recognize the symptoms coming on and see a doctor to adjust his medication, he can spiral downward again. What makes this especially problematic is that one of the heralds of a major depressive episode is the lack of motivation; the depressed exists in stasis.

And of course, depressed people sometimes feel that they are doing so well they don't need their meds and stop taking them, rather than realizing that they are feeling well because they are taking the meds.
posted by misha at 10:51 PM on July 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


The thing is, it won't really stop the suicides, or even make them less likely.

No one can say for sure. I have a friend who decided that if his buddies car wasn't parked in front of the house he was going to commit suicide. My friend drove over and saw the car in the driveway so he went home and, over time got better. What he did isn't part of any official record that can be correlated, tabulated or cross referenced for some study. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who has similar experiences who didn't act on the impulse or, were foiled in some way and never followed through by some other means. All we really have to go on are the dead and those who sought treatment.

I wonder what people's options would be if they put this in context on how much this cost them from a financial standpoint. In 1996 a study carried out in New Brunswick found it cost approximately $850,000 per suicide (for things like autopsies, police investigations, funeral &c) in New Zealand they carried out a similar study a few years ago, cost per suicide: $450,000. The figures skyrocket when potential future earnings are taken into account.

Food for thought.
posted by squeak at 11:57 PM on July 31, 2007


My wife had a car accident a decade ago that resulted in a closed head injury, brain surgery to remove a blood clot, months of therapy, and a need for depression medication for, most likely, the rest of her life. She just recently had her depression medication changed for the fourth time in those 10 years. And by changing, I mean different chemical combinations (Zoloft, Lexapro, etc.) not the many dosage changes for each medication. When they are working, it helpes her keep herself somewhat grounded and able to deal with regular life. It is pretty obvious to me (and her most of the time) when they start becoming less effective because of the increased mood swings, overreactions to very minor things, crushing depression and VERY strong feelings of worthlessness, etc.

The point of all this is that depression medication is like many medications in that, for most people, they become less effective over time and require periodic checking, increasing or decreasing doses, or a change to a different one altogether. I keep wishing for that "magic bullet" pill that will make my wife "all better" or even one that would work pretty well for the rest of her life without having to go to a doctor once or twice a year to have the dosage or medicine possibly changed.

One thing I feel sure of is that without this medication, my wife would have done whatever was necessary to commit suicide years ago and wouldn't have let a barrier or gun lock or child-proof medicine bottles or anything else prevent it.

So my opinion is that prevention by health-care methods is a lot more effective than a bridge barrier.
posted by CuJoe at 12:13 AM on August 1, 2007


or, to put it bluntly, is a good looknig bridge worth 30 to 40 lives a year?

This equation isn't logical. You'd need to show that those 30-40 people- a majority of whom, as the stats show, make impulsive decisions to go to the bridge- wouldn't kill themselves by equally impulsive and, in most parts of the Bay Area, far more accessible means- such as buying a gun or firing up the car in a garage. And as the stats also show, the latter methods are the bigger problem by far.

So the big question is: will a barrier reduce the overall number of suicides? Probably not, since the barrier fails to address the real issue in a systematic and effective way.

As Misha wrote: I really think, as someone who has faced the demons of depression and come back from it, that this is something the families and friends who are left behind want to happen. They feel this helpless need to do *something* so that others won't have to go through what they have gone through.

This, as Misha writes, is an understandable emotional response, but not a rational or effective one. Don't blame the bridge. Blame an inadequate health care system, a society that doesn't take mental health issues seriously, friends and loved ones who don't have the knowledge to recognize potentially suicidal behavior and strategies for intervention, laughable "restrictions" on gun ownership, and an FDA that is more interested in protecting big pharma than in properly regulating the availability of prescription drugs that can produce a lethal overdose to people with a history of depression.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:49 AM on August 1, 2007


foxy_hedgehog, as rtha points out, if only 6% of atemptees make a second atempt, then a perfectly effective barrier would save 28-39 individuals per year. One or two individuals would go on to suicide by other means.

I don't think the gun or car arguments hold much weight either, if bridge suicides are primarily an impulsive act.

I think the main part of the question still stands: is an uglified bridge worth 25-30 lives a year?
posted by bonehead at 6:04 AM on August 1, 2007


I would find a barrier on the bridge quite depressing, and I think that would drive me to suicide.

Also, what's to stop someone simply jumping over the barrier? If there were nets, what's to stop someone climbing out and jumping again? I think San Francisco needs to invest in some softer water.
posted by hnnrs at 6:32 AM on August 1, 2007



foxy_hedgehog, as rtha points out, if only 6% of atemptees make a second atempt, then a perfectly effective barrier would save 28-39 individuals per year. One or two individuals would go on to suicide by other means.


rtha's cite shows something different- that a single intervention (or in the words of the man whose last words before jumping were found in his journal, a single smile) drastically reduces the chance that someone will attempt suicide again in any context, bridge or otherwise.

What this shows is the importance of even the simplest forms of intervention, not that the bridge causes suicides that would otherwise not take place. All of the pro-barrier arguments stem from the assumption that it does, which just doesn't square with the far more difficult realities of how and why people kill themselves.

What the original study also doesn't seem to explain is how many people are identified by bridge staff and security as suicide risks and talked down or offered some help. A friend bikes across the bridge every day for work, and calls 911 whenever he sees someone who is in any way distressed or exhibiting worrisome behavior- standing at the edge of the bridge in melancholy silence, crying, talking to themselves, peering around, reading the bible etc (those are all examples he cited of behavior that merited a call).

Stepping up these sorts of efforts, and training the public on how to notice signs of suicidal behavior and how to intervene, is a far more effective measure to prevent suicide.

I don't think the gun or car arguments hold much weight either, if bridge suicides are primarily an impulsive act.

For most Bay Area residents, they are no less impulsive. Driving to the bridge, parking in the Presidio or in Sausalito or taking public transit and then walking all require planning, effort, and money. If you live in Palo Alto, Richmond, or even in many parts of SF, the other options may well be easier to enact impulsively.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:23 AM on August 1, 2007


foxy_hedgehog, as rtha points out, if only 6% of atemptees make a second atempt, then a perfectly effective barrier would save 28-39 individuals per year. One or two individuals would go on to suicide by other means.

Sorry, but thats a case of bad statistics...

First, thats 6% of the attemptees who didn't succeed (obviously) and that weights it toward a possibly less determined bunch.

Second, and most importantly, its not right to say a barrier would "save 28-39 individuals" since you're assuming they wouldn't try at all. Instead, its more likely their first attempt would just be through some other means.
posted by vacapinta at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2007


First, thats 6% of the attemptees who didn't succeed (obviously) and that weights it toward a possibly less determined bunch.

Ok, but the second study quoted in that link are of six survivors, one of which repeated. It's a tiny sample, but there seems to be a strong component of regret immediately following the jump. So, even if the number is 20%, that's still a lot of lot of people who change their minds on the way down, and a large component who will not try again.

For your second point: perhaps, but what proof do you have of that? If diversion happens, how much and to what methods? If you want to argue that you need some evidence. Find it and I'll agree with you. As it stands, it's just a hypothesis, and in the absence of proof, I have to assume the negative.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2007


If diversion happens, how much and to what methods?

That's just it- there's no study to demonstrate what percentage of potential bridge jumpers would a) pursue death by other means b) would stop trying to commit suicide after an intervention. It's impossible to do that sort of research systematically.

You could, however, look at empirical data from other cities and sites that installed suicide prevention measures on major landmarks and sites of "impulsive" suicide. Have overall suicide rates in New York City declined in the wake of and because of the installation of protective glass on the viewing platform of the Empire State Building, or the fence-cages around the walkways of the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridge? I very much doubt it, but I'm happy to change my mind if you can find the numbers.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:20 AM on August 1, 2007



If diversion happens, how much and to what methods?

Whoops. Meant to quote that.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:21 AM on August 1, 2007


or, to put it bluntly, is a good looknig bridge worth 30 to 40 lives a year?

Is a freeway system and motor vehicles worth the tens of thousands of lives per year?

Is Prime Rib and Hamburger worth the hundreds of thousands of lives per year?
posted by tkchrist at 9:33 AM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


From Toronto Life:

We’ve had a couple of years with the suicide prevention barrier along the Bloor viaduct. So who was right? The city, which said it would cut overall suicides, or the critics, who said suicidal people would just go somewhere else?—Gary Krupa, Midtown
Posted on October 16, 2006

You’re not the only one who’s curious: the Toronto coroner has been contacted by municipalities as far away as San Francisco, which is considering a similar barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge. But the short and frustrating answer is, we still don’t know. Toronto’s suicide rates have been steady over the past half decade, averaging 243 per year, but there’s always a degree of fluctuation from one year to the next. The problem is that the number of deaths that resulted from jumps off the viaduct before the so-called luminous veil was installed is smaller than that annual variation. It’s likely a trend will emerge eventually, but it will take a few more years. In the meantime, the only thing we can say with certainty is that our barrier prevents suicides at its location: since its installation in 2003, there hasn’t been a single jumper.

posted by vacapinta at 9:54 AM on August 1, 2007


The New Yorker article (thanks Jaie) painted a picture of the Golden Gate as a romantic draw for suicidal people. It makes a lot of sense - why not die somewhere beautiful?

But that got me thinking:
Why not exploit the fact that the Golden Gate attracts potential suicides?

Don't put up a physical barrier, but make the patrolling incredibly regular, and staff it with the greatest, most empathetic people you can find. Have phones and signs every couple of metres, asking other bridge users to take the time to notice if someone appears upset, and informing potential jumpers that people are standing by to help them. Connect the patrol to a really good mental health team. Save as many as you can.

A lot of suicides seem to take family and friends by surprise. It seems to me that if you have a beacon which gathers suicidal people in one place, it offers a great opportunity to help the ones who couldn't speak out any other way.
posted by tiny crocodile at 10:25 AM on August 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


Since this is my area (psychiatry) I'll add that the debate is framed in such a way as to ensure no progress is made.

Do we add a barrier or not? Do we publicize the attempts/successes or not? Do we throw more money at the mental health system, or not?

First, you should know that there are about 600+ suicides in the bay area every year, and about 20+ are off the bridge. So enough with the bridge already. Build a barrier so we can all go back to work.

Second-- and I'm going out on a limb here-- the desire to kill yourself is not necessarily the result of a mental illness. Let's phrase it another way: what percent of suicides had ever seen a psychiatrist? 30%. What percent is it there first (and only) attempt? 70%. Psychiatrists simply don't see, physically see, most people who end up killing themselves. "Mental Health Parity" is not going to substantially reduce the suicide rate, unless we intend on wider screening (and get ready for an ethical debate.)

Third, with regard to "does media reporting lead to copycats?" The answer is yes, and no: yes, more people in the short term do copy the suicide method, but no, it does not cause _more_ suicides.

References available upon request.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 11:06 AM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


The anti-barrier arguments don't pan out and reek of all the signals of after-the-fact rationalization. Nanny state? The Bridge itself is owned by the State. If you're that strong of a libertarian, then you should be advocating for the privatization of the bridge and outraged (OUTRAGED!) that the nanny state would even consider building a bridge in the first place. Otherwise, the bridge has all the qualities of an attractive nuisance, and, I hate to trot out a "for the children" argument, but many suicide victims here have been minors. Now, if you believe that minors have all the mental faculties and power of self-choice as adults, you might better spend your libertarian rant quota working towards improved juvenile rights.

Likewise, the beautification argument and the "OMG! More taxes!" and cost-benefit arguments fail all ethical systems that I can think of. For instance, in terms of Utilitarian ethics (which is what most people think of when they think of ethical arguments) you will really argue that 40+ deaths per year, their lost wages and the cascading sorrow, lost work, and need for mental health intervention in surviving family and friends really outweighs a one-time cost? Others have pointed out objectively and anecdotally that failed jumpers tend to make good.

If you're so concerned about the beauty of the bridge, how about we build a plexiglass pedestrian viewpoint at the halfway point? Likewise, a barrier was in the original design.

You can tell yourself whatever you want to believe, but it seems to me that docpops nails it: This is just a reason for people to trot out their various philosophies of where they stand on helping the weak and less fortunate. I really wouldn't fault any one too badly for dropping a friend over their anti-barrier argument, in as much that, these arguments strongly fail the generalized case of the Waitperson Test. If it doesn't affect me, why should I care, amirite?
posted by Skwirl at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2007


The anti-barrier arguments don't pan out and reek of all the signals of after-the-fact rationalization.

I'll admit to being on the anti-barrier side. To me, it reeks of misdirected resources. As pointed out above, this is a small fraction of all the suicides in the Bay Area.

My fear is that the barrier will get put up, suicides on the GG Bridge will go to zero and all the pro-barrier people will pat themselves on the back for having solved some great social problem. When, in fact, 600 people a year in the Bay area will go on killing themselves and most, if not all, of the 20 people who would have jumped off the bridge will quietly overdose on pills in some small apartment where we don't have to see them splashed across our front pages.

That is, to me, it doesn't remove the problem (people in our society who need mental health services), it removes its most visible manifestation.
posted by vacapinta at 11:19 AM on August 1, 2007


No. The argument against a barrier is because IT WON'T WORK. But go ahead and build it and see. I don't give a shit.

And then build another bigger barrier. Because the first one wasn't enough.

And then after that just knock down the bridge and build a cement tunnel. To impact what? 12% of total number of suicides? So you bring that down to 8%.

And the suicide rate goes up 3% off the Transamerica Pyramid or the Bank of America Building?

The the flaw in the PRO barrier argument is that:

A) it will work.

B) the sentimental canard "is a pretty bridge worth lives?"


We accept all sorts of risks associated with aesthetics, convenience, and economics— Freeways, Meat, etc.

And ALL of those things claim lives in order of magnitude greater than the Golden Gate Bridge.

So are you all REALLY arguing about saving the greatest number of lives? Okay, then all of you should also be arguing for reduced speed limits and mandatory helmets when riding in ANY vehicle. We must save human life!

No. It's about how you feel about this one terrible thing. It's sad. It's a tragedy. So build a barrier.
posted by tkchrist at 11:27 AM on August 1, 2007


Apathy and antipathy towards the barrier has to be a symptom, not a cause, of the greater apathy and antipathy towards suicide prevention in general in our society. Piddling arguments made back and forth about the barrier are just as much of a red herring as any patting on the back would be, but at least we would have moved past one more roadblock towards the greater debate and those with a dog in this fight could devote their resources elsewhere.

And there is a greater problem, seeing as how suicide is the #11 cause of death in all age groups and the #3 cause of death in young people 15-24.
posted by Skwirl at 11:36 AM on August 1, 2007


Apathy and antipathy towards the barrier has to be a symptom, not a cause, of the greater apathy and antipathy towards suicide prevention in general in our society.

Jesus. What a load of bullshit. So if we are against this one particular so called "solution" we are essentially heartless and PRO suicide? You make a huuuuuge assumption those of us who think this barrier idea is addle brained sentimentality have never lost any one dear to us to suicide.

Well. You would be fucking wrong.

And not only that nobody should be our friends as this is part of some larger charachter test?

Good God. Are you even listening to yourself?
posted by tkchrist at 11:56 AM on August 1, 2007


A point more or less made above, but I want to say again, in reference to this --

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.

-- that these 515 people were not, in all likelihood, hauled down off the edge and driven home; I would imagine that the potential suicides were all subject to immediate, non-voluntary psychiatric care. What this suggests to me is that suicidally depressed people can recover with the proper attention.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2007


Okay, then all of you should also be arguing for reduced speed limits and mandatory helmets when riding in ANY vehicle. This will really piss you off, but, yes, some of us believe that zero fatalities in the transportation system is an ethical ideal that can be achieved without sacrificing liberty. (False dilemma.) Brakes on Fatality Day/Vision Zero/Volvo Engineer. But that's an entirely different debate.

tkchrist: People don't generally speak as passionately as the anti-barrier folks exhibited here if their own opposition to something is that, "it won't work." Huge pork projects pass under the citizenry's noses everyday without the vehement debate seen with regards to the bridge barrier. You are purposefully ignoring the many arguments that it would work that have been presented in this discussion. There are also some valid arguments that it wouldn't work that you are, for whatever reason, also ignoring. That leads me to believe that you are really arguing from a nonconsequentialist ethical system. That's all fine and good, so why hide behind a utilitarian argument (Summarized: It won't work, but will cost utility) that you fail to flesh out? No one can know with absolute certainty whether or not the utility will pan out, because no one is a fortune teller. There are objective arguments to be made on both sides, but anti-barrier advocates on MeFi are acting like their conclusions are handed down from the heavens.

Likewise, the nonconsequentialist value that I am basing my arguments on is that the State exists to protect the most vulnerable in our society. That includes protections of life and liberty. Not just life. Not just liberty. The value I see stated in this thread by anti-barrier advocates is that liberty is the only value worth protecting. That's a valid opinion to be sure, but the bridge itself represents a transfer of liberty for utility (via taxes, traffic laws, police patrols, etc...). So explain to me why those trade-offs are valid, or unworthy of mention, but protecting the most vulnerable (minors, people with medication side-effects or inefficiency, temporary mental illness) are not.

That is to say, the arguments really boil down to the idea that the mentally ill are not (as) worthy of public intervention. Aesthetics and convenience are false dilemmas. Economics? Yes, safe things often cost more. In this case, I believe that the cost pans out.
posted by Skwirl at 12:20 PM on August 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


And not only that nobody should be our friends as this is part of some larger charachter test?

I didn't say that. Implied maybe. My view is that people have a right to choose their own friends. A strong ethical incompatibility is a valid determinant under the right circumstances. Hopefully, though, these things blow over.
posted by Skwirl at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2007


foxy_hedgehog, as rtha points out, if only 6% of atemptees make a second atempt, then a perfectly effective barrier would save 28-39 individuals per year. One or two individuals would go on to suicide by other means.

That's assuming that going through a failed attempt and dealing with all the aftermath is precisely equivalent to simply nothing at all happening. You don't have to imagine suicide as some random error message that comes out of nowhere and just invades a perfectly happy well-adjusted person for no reason, and then after it's over they're back to being perfectly fine. Perhaps they're going through difficult emotional turmoil, and the suicide attempt is a breaking point that forces them and those around them to truly focus effort on healing the pain that they're dealing with. Maybe the reason less people make that second attempt is because they get the help they need.

If that's the case, then simply stopping them from having access to a place where suicide would be likely to be successful could save a few people if the method they chose instead were less successful, but not by assuming that they would just not choose any method at all. Yes, the moment of suicide is impulsive. And yet, it is not so impulsive that we have all done it. Very few of us have actually attempted suicide. I think a great portion of us have thought about it, at least. But one must feel the impulse toward suicide quite regularly for it to one day actually come to fruition. I'd bet that most people who kill themselves thought about it dozens or hundreds of times before they actually gave it a try (although there may also be those angry uncontrollable types who hardly think at all).

Basically, the moment of impulse is deciding to walk to the bridge. They could decide to buy some heroin instead, or turn on the gas in their oven or whatever. They might not do it, but "impulse" doesn't just mean some random misfire in the brain. It means that a short term aggressive emotion trumped a long term rational outlook. But it's still the particular impulse of an individual personality with issues, problems, characteristics and potentialities of his or her own. The tendency to have that sort of impulse is still going to be higher until there is some sort of change of course.
posted by mdn at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2007


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.

Prevented how? If someone stopped them from committing suicide, I would bet they didn't make another attempt. If something, like a barrier, stopped them, maybe or maybe not.

You know one factor that makes people decide to live? The understanding that lives are interconnected, and that their death affects others, in a "It's a Wonderful Life" way. I believe this.

I think that there is this general assumption that suicide victims feel put upon and want people to feel sorry for treating them badly, and they commit suicide because they imagine this big group at their funeral feeling sorry about all the mean things they did.

But I think most people kill themselves because they feel they don't matter, that no one cares, that they are worthless. So if someone takes the time to stop them, or to tell them how important they are, that makes a difference. I don't think that a barrier sends the message, "We care about you, John Smith of 123 ABC Street." I think it says, "We don't want people using this bridge as a jump point."
posted by misha at 1:34 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Likewise, the nonconsequentialist value that I am basing my arguments on is that the State exists to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

The implicit assumption here is that the barrier will work or might work. And as such it is our prerogative to support it if we have any ethical grounding.

The problem is, as you have admitted ("No one can know with absolute certainty whether or not the utility will pan out, because no one is a fortune teller."), there is not strong data on either side. If so, wouldn't that favor non-action? We generally dont say "Hey, we dont know if making everyone wear white hats will save lives, but, heck, why not?"

As I see it, the "passion" exhibited by many anti-barrier people regarding this proposal despite many other money-wasting things is that its less about money than about public policy driven by pure emotion and fallacious reasoning.
posted by vacapinta at 1:34 PM on August 1, 2007


Data point: I'm pro-barrier.

This (the blue) is the only place where I've read the views of actual people - as opposed to those of an Offcial Spokesperson of Some Interest Group quoted in the paper - who are opposed to a barrier. I confess that I still don't quite get it, but I'm reading (and sometimes re-reading) comments to try to understand - although you'll probably not convince me.

So, maybe I've missed something above that explicitly addresses this question: if two people (or three, or more, etc.) a week were jumping off the bridge, should a barrier go up? Many of the anti-barrier arguments above seem to revolve around a combination of won't work/will cost too much given how few people jump. Would the cost thing give way, in your view, if more people were jumping?

Apologies for what oversimplifications/misreadings may appear here. I'm really not trying to start a flame war - I'm trying to understand both the "other" side and my own beliefs.
posted by rtha at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2007


if two people (or three, or more, etc.) a week were jumping off the bridge, should a barrier go up?

I can only answer for myself. If droves of people were jumping off the bridge then I would strongly recommend we devote even more money (see, its not a pure money thing for me) to vigilance, or cameras or patrols. This way we'd perhaps be able to stop more people and even get them towards a path of turning things around.

Putting up a barrier still says: Go commit suicide somewhere else.
posted by vacapinta at 2:39 PM on August 1, 2007


In order to have a longitudinal study, you would have to build the barrier first anyway. And even in the cases where before-after studies were made, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to separate causal factors to everyone's agreement. That is to say, the data will never fully resolve this debate.

However, your logic is still biased. Non-action would be not building the bridge in the first place.
posted by Skwirl at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2007


You are purposefully ignoring the many arguments that it would work that have been presented in this discussion. There are also some valid arguments that it wouldn't work that you are, for whatever reason, also ignoring. That leads me to believe that you are really arguing from a nonconsequentialist ethical system. That's all fine and good, so why hide behind a utilitarian argument (Summarized: It won't work, but will cost utility) that you fail to flesh out? No one can know with absolute certainty whether or not the utility will pan out, because no one is a fortune teller. There are objective arguments to be made on both sides, but anti-barrier advocates on MeFi are acting like their conclusions are handed down from the heavens.

I don't have a view about the barrier, but this doesn't make any sense. Because (you claim) tkchrist is purposefully ignoring arguments in favor of and against the barrier, that makes him a deontologist? It seems to me that he offers broadly consequentialist arguments: that building the barrier won't have good consequences. He's not "hiding behind" these arguments. He doesn't talk about obeying some golden rule, or obeying a universalizable maxim no matter the consequences like a deontologist would.

In any case, who cares whether he's a consequentialist or a deontologist? They're both reasonable viewpoints for thinking about moral issues. It seems like you're just using big words to puff up your position, even though they appear to confuse the issue, and consequently you don't appear to understand what they mean. And that really gets my goat.
posted by Kwine at 4:39 PM on August 1, 2007


I'll tell you what I am. I am a "Nobullshitinologist."

And if the issue was people accidentally falling off the bridge by no fault of their own then I would agree with putting up a barrier with-out "data". But we are talking about people determined to circumvent sensible safety precautions by the nature of the act of suicide. As tragic as that is.
posted by tkchrist at 5:26 PM on August 1, 2007


Pollomacho trolled: Has anyone done a cost/benefit analysis to compare the cost of the barrier versus the cost of hauling bodies out of the bay?

I know MetaFilter is a place for people to be snarky, and to imply that those who disagree are horrific monsters, but give me a fucking break.

The real debate here is about publicly funded mental health care.

First of all, should we have it at all. And secondly, if we decide we should have it, is it better to spend $20m on a barrier on a specific bridge, or to use it to provide a wider variety of preventive services, that could possibly improve more lives.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:55 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


rtha: I think a lot of it is that the barrier is a very expensive way to stop one particular method of self-extermination, while doing absolutely nothing to stop others or to help those with mental health problems.

To me, the barrier is one of the worst possible solutions in that it's an expensive government program, and it's completely reactive.

It doesn't do anything to address the problems that make people want to jump. It doesn't do anything to help keep people from getting into such a state in the first place, or to identify those who are at risk.

It simply says: "please kill yourself in a more private setting. thanks in advance." And it costs $15-20m to do so.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:00 PM on August 1, 2007


Thank you, Tacos and vacapinta.
posted by rtha at 9:25 PM on August 1, 2007


The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.

That's perhaps the shortest, best story out of all this. Thank you.

The barrier is a red herring and so are the arguments for it based on the dollar cost of mangled bodies.

Like hell anyone cares about that.

We just want to build it so we'll feel better. So we won't have to hear any more stories about somebody else's life having sunk so far into despair that they decide to take that walk. Well, we who didn't smile at them on the way, don't deserve to feel better.

I am really sorry for anyone here whose loved ones have killed themselves.
posted by magic curl at 11:49 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was not trolling. I am not trying to be snarky. I am completely fucking serious. What about the poor asshole that has to risk his ass in the bay to pull the bodies out? What about the cost of pulling the bodies out? Is that cost or is it not greater than the cost of putting up a barrier? Or do you not really give a shit about the guy that has to do that work?

Of course I think that the best solution is to help prevent the suicides before they happen. But as they are going to happen and $20 million in a mental health facility or a suicide prevention line will possibly slow the tide, it is not going to stop them. So, in short, and in an entirely non snarky or trolling way, why not do something to help protect people that will have to risk their lives on something that has a closer to 100% chance of successfully preventing suicides on this bridge?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:34 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


What about the cost of pulling the bodies out? Is that cost or is it not greater than the cost of putting up a barrier?

It's been said many times above. They will go somewhere else.

Your timing is perfect. I sat on a train for an hour yesterday because someone threw themselves in front of the train in front of us. Same thing happened last month.

These are high-speed trains. Death is sure and instantaneous. The cost of shutting down the Caltrain system for hours is huge and there is no way to put barriers along its entire length.

When we put a barrier on the bridge and suicides on the train tracks increase...whats the next step?
posted by vacapinta at 7:22 AM on August 7, 2007


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