Before I go too far on this, since it is a touchy subject, I don’t blame any one for suicide–and that’s kind of my point with the latest Change.org petition I was emailed. There have also been suicidal issues within my family as well and I would never fault anyone for reacting strongly after a suicide occurs or even telling me to eff off after reading further. I’m not saying the barrier shouldn’t be built, but I have to question it.
The latest Change petition is: “My son jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.” The mother is asking that the Golden Gate put up a suicide prevention barrier (which would be at taxpayer cost, of course, so it is a community decision) due to her son’s death and the number of suicides that occur each year on the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t think it’s a completely unreasonable request to look into, but then the blame seems to be shifted to management of Golden Gate instead of what may have been really going on with her son. It just seems too simple of a fix–put up a barrier! She refers to it as a “life saving suicide prevention.”
If we’re willing to assume that someone suicidal would not look to alternate means besides going to the Golden Gate Bridge then maybe it would be “life saving” and yet she doesn’t acknowledge the tragedy lies with the individual. Obviously, her son had depression or a mental illness and either no one recognized it (which I would say is hard to do with moody teenagers) or it was ignored or it was a family issue. I’m not blaming anyone in the family for the suicide–I don’t know! But I can say that inquiry should not be off the table. Nor should it be off the table that this was mental illness and the only fix was medication which would render this petition pointless in regards to this suicide.
A bridge barrier isn’t going to stop someone intent on killing themselves as there would be no danger of it happening at that location. Why would a suicidal person attempt suicide at a place with a suicide prevention barrier, unless they are just that stupid? Apparently, people kill themselves on impulse which is what barriers stop. I’ve had plenty of down moments in my life, but never an impulse “to jump.” If you’re going to tell me that impulse is not premeditated by some other thought process or experience, I’m finding that hard to believe. It also takes some effort to travel to the bridge and find the spot to jump. Reasons for suicide vary from bullying, drugs, rejected gay lifestyle, break up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, chemicals in the brain, etc. Do people happen to just visit Golden Gate and then figure, oh, good place to jump without prior issues?
Here’s where I think the disconnect is when this mother states: There’s a common misconception that people who attempt suicide once will just try again — that’s not true. In fact, one study showed that 94% of people who were talked down from the Golden Gate Bridge did not go on to kill themselves. If a barrier had been in place, my son could have been among that 94%.
Yes, those that were talked down got help, but if the barrier was there they wouldn’t be there in the first place, would they? They would have gone to another location with access to ultimate death or used another method. And in my experience, the person I knew attempted more than once. Methods of suicide may also show whether a person is willing to attempt multiple times or if it is a cry for help; for instance, people who take pills and then eventually tell a friend or call 911 or wrist slashers who expect to be found. Jumping off a bridge? They’ve pretty much decided and it’s less impulsive than staying home and using pills or a razor.
Another part of the argument is that the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building have a barrier. The sad fact of that is that they were not put up as a “life saving suicide prevention” so much as it is both bad for tourism and dangerous to have people jumping off your tower onto cement below and potentially crowds below. For the Golden Gate Bridge, I would say unless a ship is passing by, which the jumpee would avoid, there’s nothing but water. If Golden Gate does decide to put up funds to make the barriers, most likely it would be for these same reasons. If this mother can get her community to agree with her, great! I’m not saying she shouldn’t try, I’m mainly questioning the reasoning and if it would really drop local suicide rates?
I know, I’m being horrible. I guess what bothers me about some of these Change.org petitions, and this is not the best example, is how the blame is shifted to something that should not be blamed–the Golden Gate Bridge. I understand asking for a barrier or prevention of jumping much like any safety measure or just a plain inquiry on the benefits and downside of such a barrier, but obviously there was something else going on when this mother talks about her son: Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Kyle. He was just starting his senior year in high school, captain of the basketball team, planning on college. He had just gotten his passport for a trip to Australia after graduation. My son had excitements and hope in his life, and where does that go now? I still can’t believe he’s gone.
The kid killed himself! He was not fucking happy! I don’t care if his suicide note says so either (“I’m happy. I thought this was a good place to end.”). And to say he had hope in his life? It seems disingenuous and somehow a denial of what may have been the truth of the unfortunate circumstances.
Also this statement is false: It is appalling for California and America that the Golden Gate Bridge has more suicides than any landmark in the world. According to Wikipedia, it is second (nitpicky on my part, I know, but apparently Chinese don’t count as the Nanjing Yangtzee River Bridge is first) and we also may not have all of the statistics required because some countries will not report high suicide rates or even keep track. And again, if you take Golden Gate away as an option to commit suicide, you don’t take away the will for someone to kill themselves (or even the impulse, as “impulse” seems to be stressed here)–you simply create a new location for the highest amount of suicides or possibly you disperse the action to a couple of locations.
Want to know what Wiki lists as the fourth (sometimes disputed as second) most popular place to commit suicide? A forest in Japan. “As of 2011, the most common means of suicide in the forest were hanging and drug overdoses. …In recent years, the local government has stopped publicizing the numbers in an attempt to downplay Aokigahara’s association with suicide.” So what is Japan supposed to do? Restrict access to a forest? I guess they don’t have a bridge to add barriers to?
Yes, yes, I know, again, I am horrible for even writing this article. I guess my point is both annoyance at targeting Golden Gate and that we’re putting effort in the wrong area and this petition does nothing to really address the problem. I’d rather have San Francisco spend money on a treatment center and real preventative methods for teens then bridge barriers. I question whether physical barriers are the prevention needed and I hate the idea that for any magnificent structure we build we have to ugly it up with suicide prevention add-ons.