Why I am in favor of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge

This morning, there was an email in my inbox with a comment on a link I had provided on Facebook about the proposed suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in line with far too many comments I have come across over the years, basically expressing the opinion that if people are prevented from taking their lives here, they would just go somewhere else.
That's an opinion, not a fact. And while we are all entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.

So, I will revisit the facts I have learned over the last almost 7 years.

I will start with the bridge in general:
This Wikipedia entry has a longish section on suicide.
The original design for the bridge included a suicide barrier, but the chief engineer, Richard Strauss, was short and did not want his view obstructed. Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco at the time, felt the same way: although originally he was completely against a barrier, he later reluctantly changed his mind in favor of the net. The original letter his commission submitted, unfortunately, is no longer available online, but here is a link to what I wrote about it previously. His commission, BTW, did not include a single mental health professional, only architects, engineers and artists.

I can now also answer the question why people jump facing the city, not the ocean: the western walkway is closed to pedestrians.
The average number of suicides from the bridge these days is 30 - 40 people per year, 46 last year, with over 100 prevented. I cannot find a total count of bridge suicides (last I heard, it was 1,600), but those of us involved in all this know that the official number is always too low. While there are bodies pulled out of the water, there also are people who completely disappear. There may be witness to a jump, a suicide note, a cell phone or a car left behind, if no body is found, this person is not included in the count.
 The notion that jumping to one's death from the bridge is romantic is utter rubbish. It takes 4 terrifying seconds to hit the water. And that feels like hitting at brick wall with a truck at about 70 mph. Painful and most often fatal.

Here are facts why a barrier would work:
First, and most importantly, the Richard Seiden study from the 1970's. He and his researchers identified 515 people who had been prevented from jumping and followed their lives. Of those 515, 6% went on to take their lives and only 6 people went back to the bridge. While there are people who think that study is not applicable any longer (thank you, former Facebook friend), that, again, is opinion and not fact.
Here is a link to the Richard Seiden study.
Next the British coal gas study: when Britain switched from coal gas to natural gas to heat homes, suicide rates went down. No more access to easy means = fewer suicides.
And then the Ellington Bridge: Once suicide barriers where erected on this bridge, people did not go to the adjacent Taft Bridge in great numbers.
Links to all of those can be found in this article. It's a bit lengthy, but a worthwhile read.
And then there is this link to various Harvard studies that talks about means reduction. Yes, the bridge is considered a means.
Other landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Buildings have suicide barriers now. I do not have any links to studies about those, but I am sure they exist.
So, yes, taking away the easy means will make it harder for people to take their lives. I realize that not every attempter will be dissuaded, but enough will be to make it worthwhile.
Several of the people who have jumped from the bridge and survived (less than 2% of all jumpers) and have talked about it afterward said that, as soon as their hands left the railing, they realized they did not want to die. In the 4 seconds it takes from top to bottom, they either managed to change their body position and thereby not die instantly or be fatally injured or were incredibly lucky.
One of them is Kevin Hines who has since become a very dedicated suicide awareness and prevention advocate.
Henry wasn't incredibly lucky. He did survive and was fished out of the water and taken to San Francisco General where doctors tried to save his life for several hours. Unlike many jumpers, he only had one broken bone, a rib, but his lungs were shredded and he essentially drowned in his own blood.

And here is a bit about suicide in general:
Suicide is not the same as euthanasia, it's not in informed decision. Suicide is not a fatal disease, neither is mental illness. Suicide more often than not is an impulsive act. The person attempting suicide is hurting, badly, maybe not physically, but definitely mentally. That hurt, also called "psychache" becomes so unbearable that it seems the only way out is to end one's life. While some people look for help, many do not. And one more thing: suicides do not just happen to to other people. I was surprised, when I mentioned that my son had died by suicide, how many people opened up and told me about their losses.

Our lives changed completely after Henry's death. My way of dealing with this was to read to try and educate myself not only about suicide in general, but about the Golden Gate Bridge in particular and to talk about it openly. I have been constantly amazed by the comments I have encountered all along, all opinions, none of them facts.

By now, I have started a new blog, that one more cheerful than this one which is now dedicated mostly to suicide awareness. There are lots more posts about suicide, the bridge barrier, links to articles in national newspapers and links to letters I wrote to my local paper. Not exactly fun reading, but possibly of interest to anybody with an open mind.

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