Don’t jump off the Golden Gate Bridge

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The Golden Gate Bridge is frequently cited as the #1 suicide spot in the world. Someone jumps about every other week. It’s supposedly one of the surest ways to die, although some &mdash like one guy interviewed in the super depressing documentary The Bridge &mdash do actually survive the fall.

A Chronicle reporter described the jump as follows:

The body goes from roughly 75 to 80 mph to nearly zero in a nanosecond. The physics of inertia being what they are, internal organs tend to keep going. The force of impact causes them to tear loose. Autopsy reports typically indicate that the jumpers have lacerated aortas, livers, spleens and hearts. Ribs are often broken, and the impact shoves them into the heart or lungs. Jumpers have broken sternums, clavicles, pelvises and necks. Skull fractures are common.

The Golden Gate Bridge was built in 1937 by Joseph Strauss, and the reason the bridge is so easy to jump from is because Strauss was just five feet tall and he wanted to be able to look out on the bay, too. So he changed the rail height from the originally intended five and a half feet to four feet. 10 weeks after completion, a WW1 veteran strolled onto the bridge, climbed over the rail, and took the first plunge.

The good news is that the Golden Gate Bridge is finally getting a barrier. After years of discussion and no action, a committee called the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project agreed on a steel safety net 20 feet below the walkway, a yet-to-be-funded project that will cost three years and $50 million. (The lag was due to bureaucrats bickering about how to make one without ruining the bridge’s aesthetic for years. Ultimately, they decided to paint the barrier’s horizontal mesh wiring orange.) It’s about time &mdash the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower already have suicide barriers in place, and Aokigahara forest in Japan, reportedly the #2 suicide hot spot of the world, has signs reminding people that their life is a precious gift from their parents and begging them to reconsider.

I hope this new initiative will go through, and that it will reduce the number of suicides in San Francisco.

Image by Dawn Endico via Flickr

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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38 Responses to Don’t jump off the Golden Gate Bridge

  1. J. Penrose says:

    Seems to me it works out to $100,000 per live saved assuming no maintenance costs and a similar life span to the existing bridge…damned expensive.

    You could provide a *hell* of a lot of medical care to people who *want* to live for that money or housing or food or clothing.

    Then there’s the legal costs: First time someone jumps into the net, crawls to the edge and finishes what they began, the grieving family will decide they need several million dollars to feel better about the tragedy since thr government didn’t do enough to discourage the guy/gal.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    The Washington Post had an excellent article last year on suicides off the bridge. There’s a fair bit of evidence that putting up barriers DOES actually prevent suicides.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/02/AR2008030202119.html

    One quick blockquote:

    The notion at the heart of the training — that even the most elaborately planned suicide is essentially impulsive — was illustrated most persuasively by Seiden’s 1973 survey, “Where Are They Now?,” published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. The researcher set out to learn the fate of 515 people who came to the Golden Gate to die but were prevented, either by passersby or by the patrols that roam the bridge looking for likely jumpers.

    Using public records spanning decades, Seiden determined that 94 percent were alive or had died of natural causes.

  4. AnnQ @ www.averagebutnot.com says:

    Yikes….that’s a really expensive Net! I’d think having some kind of Security patrol the bridge might be less money, but I could be wrong.

  5. AirPillo says:

    Part of me wonders if people could start up a small volunteer group to pull watch shifts walking the bridge and shake hands with or hug passers-by, saying something encouraging and affirming.

    If I walked onto a bridge to jump off and someone walked by, hugged me, and said something nice, I might reconsider.

  6. Glenaypia says:

    I was sent this article by a friend of mine who I had had a long argument with about how worth it it was to invent a retractable net that could sense the motion of someone falling off a bridge and shoot out similar to an airbag and catch te falling person. I still think it’s a good idea and he still probably thinks I’m an idiot. But at least te person who wrote the article thinks so sort of preventative measure is worth the money. You guys who think this is a waste of money, I thin you do not understand socialogy before you bash am idea like this.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if I started scuba diving under the bridge if I would find a bunch of skeletons. If that is the case, I bet I would make a bundle of money starting a tourist scuba diving by the bridge bussiness.

  8. I think this bridge is a ridiculous waste of money. Fifty *million* dollars to mitigate a problem that happens “every other week”? That’s completely absurd. For that same amount of money you could hire a staff of 5 full-time psychiatrists paid $100K salaries to walk the bridge in shifts for 100 years. The amount of money being spent on this tiny, insignificant number of people — as tragic as their fates are — is absolutely incredible and indefensible when that same $50M could likely improve *thousands* of lives spent in other ways.

    If you agree, go here and call or write the members of the board to express your disapproval:

    http://goldengate.org/board/members.php

    Even better, call the mayor and board of supervisors to express your disapproval of their appointments to this board.

    -david

    -david

  9. Anonymous says:

    Maybe suicidal people are right.

  10. hokano says:

    CHRISROSA asks:
    “Safety net? Seriously? What’s to keep someone from jumping to the safety net, then crawling to the edge of the net and jumping again?”

    While that kind of suicidal determination is undoubtedly out there, you will also have cases where the person realizes just after gravity takes over that they’ve made a huge mistake. This sort will stay in the net and wait for help.

    I remember an interview with one survivor that was published around the time of the 1000th GGB suicide. Included something along the lines of “I jumped because I thought I had problems. But on the way down I realized that my only real problem was that I had just jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.”

  11. Anonymous says:

    Is it just me, but I wonder why suicidal people just don’t go out and rob a bank or something? If you fail, you will probably be killed (fulfilling your need for suicide), but if you succeed, you are rich!

  12. gotomars says:

    I also used to think what many people are saying here: if someone’s going to kill themselves they will find a way to do it… Then I sat next to a psychiatarist on a plane, going to one of the meetings to discuss this issue. He had all the stats and photos. His main argument for the barrier was that most people who commit or try to commit suicide are only in that state of mind for a short period of time. If you can get them to hang on they get over the urge. If there is an easy means of committing suicide, then they will do it. If there isn’t, they will often come back from their darkest spot and no longer be suicidal. Imagine if it was one of your loved ones – wouldn’t you wish that you or someone could have been able to talk to them and get them through that moment? The barrier makes it more likely that a suicidal individual can be brought out of the depths and helped to cope with their depression. That convinced me that the barrier is a good idea, and the rest of the committee too, it seems.

  13. Rob Beschizza says:

    Yep, don’t do it. Never know what’ll happen tomorrow.

  14. cgk says:

    “… 515 people who came to the Golden Gate to die but were prevented, either by passersby or by the patrols that roam the bridge looking for likely jumpers.

    Using public records spanning decades, Seiden determined that 94 percent were alive or had died of natural causes.”

    The problem with that statistic is that there is no control measure. You cannot go back to the people who were not talked out of it and determine, if they had been talked out, that they would be okay today.

    “… His main argument for the barrier was that most people who commit or try to commit suicide are only in that state of mind for a short period of time.”

    Again, same problem, that idea only encompasses those folks who were amenable to prevention. While it may be true that it helps, that is not definitive. But, a net does *not* talk someone out of suicide, it presents a simple impediment that can be easily worked around by either, jumping off the net, or just not bothering to use the GG bridge at all. Getting to the bridge requires some time and effort, even if you’re in a car. You don’t just randomly end up on the bridge.

  15. hungryjoe says:

    If this were a new airport screening device, this post would be about how useless these things are because terrorists will just attack different targets.

    This net seems like a stupid use of $50 million. But hopefully at least one person will look down at that net and be comforted by the thought that someone spent $50 million to keep him/her alive.

  16. Nina says:

    Some of you are the most hateful people I have ever come across on the internet. I can’t even believe these comments are up here on such a difficult issue.

  17. Chuck T says:

    Why not just put a diving board in one spot? Seemed like a good idea when Niven wrote it.

  18. M says:

    I have been thinking about committing suicide for the past 6 months. Honest. No faux post here. I have looked into different methods that I won’t list here to be courteous to others. Otherwise, I would catalog the methods I’ve considered and tell you the certainty of death by each method, the tactics to ensure I am not found, stopped or revived, how much it would cost or the bureaucratic red tape to access certain tools.

    It’s illegal or highly burdensome to buy the tools that provide certain results, especially if you have had any instance of psychiatric evaluation within a period of time. As soon as I research a method that seems certain, I then see reports on what officials are doing to prevent my accessing that method — I am thinking of one fatal drug and one fatal gas that are harder to access now. I’m grateful for this proposed net. It’s not even up yet and I’m rethinking the walk I was planning to take today or tomorrow. I’m grateful that today is a particularly windy day and think God might be trying to talk to me. I’m not nuts just really hard up like a lot of people right now and really alone. Out of resources, financial and emotional. Made a lot of mistakes I have to think about when I’m awake in the middle of the night.

    I imagine that the suicide statistics reported by the GGB are much worse. Maybe they can get away with claiming that some falls were slips or accidents, even though flapping your arms after you step onto the railing doesn’t mean you didn’t intend to get up there. Or maybe not every inch of the bridge is watched at all times so that some individuals fall without notice.

    Suicidal thoughts are prompted by sustained hurt/pain and by a simple cost-benefit analysis. It will hurt less if I do this variable rather than if I continue to live and face a future I’m sure will be more of the same or possibly worse. The easier it is to access…. I’ve done my research on certainty of death b/c I want to be successful in any attempt. Deformity is not what I’m after. If the GGB provides certain death it is much more appealing than the method where I might be found and revived.

    I’m sorry the barrier costs $50 million. I’m sorry that people like me exist, weak people among you who have suicidal thoughts and take actions toward acting on those thoughts. What am I going to do? I don’t know. If I do something, I better do it before they build this net, that I know. I don’t want a deterrent. I don’t like the reduced certainty. I might go back to thinking about how I can access the drug and/or gas I need for a swift and relatively painless flight into the afterlife. I know that I will also spend some time thinking about how I could make my life better.

    I don’t know what a human life is worth. Mine. Right now? Not so much. But I’m young. Maybe I’ll make something of myself after all. I’ve had some success and have just been putting too much pressure on myself and feeling too badly about the setbacks I’m experiencing right now during these very depressed economic times when I’m in debt and can’t get a job and it doesn’t seem like the world “needs” me or wants me. (I’ll say it for you: Boo-hoo, poor me. Yeah. But that’s how I feel when I’m up for hours every night.) Whatever your situation is… I wish you good luck and wish you to be kind/good to others. Don’t gossip. Don’t cheat. Hold those bad words in your mouth. Be nice. There are fragile human beings next to you.

  19. M says:

    I’ve talked myself out of doing anything. I can go stay with my parents to sort things out. Don’t worry about the cost of the net. We wasted so much money in Iraq to do what? Save them? Did we save them for the billions we spent every month? Be well.

  20. gabrielm says:

    “I hope this new initiative will go through, and that it will reduce the number of suicides in San Francisco.”

    Yes, because jumping from the bridge is the only way to off yourself in SF. Not to be cynical, but I would rather have people doing this then jumping/driving in front of trains and ruining other peoples lives.

    Just my 2¢

  21. ehamiter says:

    I concur with Gabriel. $50 million for a net? Why wouldn’t they just jump out of the net when they land there? Is it super sticky a la Spiderman webs and will hold the pesky suicidal individual until the authorities arrive?

  22. Gloria says:

    “I hope this new initiative will go through, and that it will reduce the number of suicides in San Francisco. ”

    I was going to make the same comment as #1. Raising barriers on bridges (like we’ve done here in Toronto) doesn’t reduce the number of suicides; it just makes them seek out other options.

    All that money ($50 million!) that will be spent on building the net (and not to mention maintaining it) could be diverted to supporting suicide help lines for years and even decades.

  23. anon says:

    I wonder if all the jokey negative remarks coming from these insensitive people would still be the same if they lost a loved one a brother sister daughter mum or dad or even ended up so low that it was their only way out – I am sure it would not be! all I can say is it is very immature to joke about such a serious issue.

  24. subliminati says:

    6 years ago I was going to jump off a bridge to kill myself, but when I arrived there was a net preventing any fatal falls. So I went to plan B: Drinking cleaning chemicals.

    In line at the store to buy some clorox for my final cocktail, I met a woman and decided to put off killing myself for a while.

    Six years later we were still together, but tonight I found out she’s been sleeping with my brother the whole time.

    Jesus, this Clorox tastes horrible. If only there was a bridge somewhere…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hey, couldn’t they spend a lot less money to make the railing a bit higher up? Or maybe that would cost $50 million, too, I don’t know…

  26. chrisrosa says:

    Safety net? Seriously? What’s to keep someone from jumping to the safety net, then crawling to the edge of the net and jumping again?

    Rather than trying to protect those that want to off themselves, why not focus our time and money on saving the lives of the folks that want to live. Like those driving only 2 feet apart at cumulative speeds of ≈100mph separated by only skinny safety cones?

    The so-called “Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project” is a joke, and a waste of taxpayer money.

  27. elliot winner says:

    Man, The Bridge was one hell of an exploitative film. I could only watch 15 minutes into before I had had enough.

  28. Rtarara says:

    The bridge doesn’t make anyone kill themselves. It doesn’t really even make it easier. It’s just a popular method. Adding a net won’t reduce the number of suicides, it will just make people choose different methods. A lot more people would be saved using 50 million for free mental health services in the city.

  29. Kevin says:

    “AirPillo
    …if people could start up a small volunteer group to… shake hands with or hug passers-by, saying something encouraging…”

    This sounds very touchy-feely, but I remember reading an interview of a suicide-jump survivor, and during the trip to and while on the bridge, he told himself something along the lines of: “if just one person would say something nice to me, I won’t jump”

  30. Curious says:

    Suicide barriers have been successful to stop suicides on other bridges, however, the Golden Gate Bridge is 2 miles long!

    Just painting the bridge is a gigantic taxpayer expense and it is a project that never ends.

  31. katharine000 says:

    How can people even joke about this? If you had someone you love (like in my case, my brother) do this, you would feel differently. Barriers help prevent IMPULSIVE suicide, I’m sorry but lives are more important than the esthetic of a bridge. Go San Fransisco for taking preventative measures, they WILL make a difference.

  32. Ambiguity says:

    The good news is that the Golden Gate Bridge is finally getting a barrier.

    I don’t really see why that is good news. I can’t really comment on it because anything I say would come out wrong — and I’m not an insensitive person — but putting a barrier up is at best treating the symptom of a problem and not its cause. There’s nothing wrong with that per se other than that fact that spending time in resources (which are limited) in ways that appear to address a problem — but don’t — isn’t wise.

  33. Steve Morris says:

    So in other words, you want to move suicide tourism away from S.F. Have people kill themselves at home… Right?

    Now, people drive over perfectly good bridges to jump off the Golden Gate. I recall the case of the man who flew from Germany to jump off the bridge.

  34. jrbadger says:

    spending 50 million dollars to try to keep people from killing themselves by adding a net is a joke. i’m probably gonna go kill myself by jumping off the golden gate bridge in the next few days. and if there was a net, i’d have to go buy a gun from a homeless guy, or overdose on heroin. and you don’t want my last action as a man of this earth to be in support of illegal gun/drug trafficking do you? lol. cutting just never works, and overdosing on anything other than the really hard stuff just ends in vomiting, and minor brain damage. and if i just went for the jail/rehab/or psych ward route then i would be in effect causing the taxpayers a whole lot of money. us suicidals just know when we are wasting air, and the golden gate bridge is nice, it’s like taking the scenic route.

  35. RedShirt77 says:

    Why don’t the put bars over the windows of all tall buildings, sell only rubber bullets, and make all ovens be electric.

    Frankly most folks here are right . Put that money into suicide prevention and mental health services. That will save a lot more people

  36. Lizzz says:

    how many people are going to jump off just to test the new net? free giant trampoline anyone?

  37. gotomars says:

    Re: CGK. Yes, you can check whether intervention helped those that actually jumped. Check if anyone talked to the people who successfully killed themselves. I.e. they listened then did it anyway. If what you say is right, then the proportion of cases where there was intervention should be the same for those who died and those who didn’t go through with it.

  38. AbsolootFusco says:

    I think the money should be spent to convince would-be jumpers of just how horribly painful it is to jump off the Golden Gate. Perhaps an illustrated pamphlet of past jumper’s bodies after impact and recovery from the Bay; including minutely detailed notes of the numerous injuries sustained.

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