On Friday, June 27, the Golden Gate Transportation District (GGTD) voted to spend $76 million to install a “Physical Suicide Deterrent System”. The deterrent system will be comprised of a wire net extending approximately twenty feet on either side of the Golden Gate Bridge to catch people who jump. My question is, “What’s so bad about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge?” If someone is ready to call it quits, and their chosen method involves the dramatic scenery surrounding the San Francisco Bay, who are we or the GGTD to dissuade them by installing a high wire net?
Golden Gate Bridge of Death
If I owned the Golden Gate Bridge I probably wouldn’t want people taking their last swan dive off of it either. Suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge are really a hit against the marketing image that San Francisco is trying to cultivate. I suppose the GGTD is trying to prevent any negative organic marketing slogan such as, “Come, See, Jump. Only in San Francisco”. While the Golden Gate Bridge does present a siren song of sorts to those who want their final moments forever connected to the span, I think the suicide net is more of an attempt to assuage survivor guilt and sanitize the image of the “Bridge of Death” as some people refer to it.
Suicides are not the fault of GGTD
Just to be clear, it is not the fault of the GGTD that people jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. By prominently placing signs and phones for crisis counseling on the bridge, they have absolved themselves of any complicity in the suicide. The real culpability for enabling suicide rests with friends, family members, the government and a society that chronically under funds the mental health care system.
Jumping off Golden Gate Bridge is not an impulse purchase
The decision to leap off of the Golden Gate Bridge is rarely done on impulse. In addition to treatable depression, contributing factors to the decision to commit suicide include being ostracized by the person’s church, being asked to leave the family home because the individual has identified at gay, lesbian, or transgender, or the lack of mental health care as experienced by veterans from the Veteran’s Administration.
Deterring suicide doesn’t prevent it
Just like a city’s decision to clean up their downtown streets of homeless people, the sanitation tactics to push homeless people from public view doesn’t end homelessness. It merely moves them to another location. If someone is determined to commit suicide and they are deterred from using the Golden Gate Bridge, they’ll find another alternative.
Suicide magnet is not good marketing
It’s not the suicide that necessarily bothers those Board members of the GGTD or elective officials, it’s the negative image it gives the city. If people truly bent on ending their lives could go out in the woods and yell, “Beam me up Scotty!” and then vanish, never to be heard from again, our civic leaders wouldn’t give suicide a second thought. If there is no body, no search, no recovery, and no clean up- it’s all good.
Golden Gate jumpers are offensive
The problem with suicide via Golden Gate Bridge is that it offends people. People don’t want to witness a suicide and they are indignant that public funds are used to recover the bodies. Whereas public suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge are an affront to the sensibilities of the intellectually well-heeled, private suicides by gun, pills, knife or rope in the individual’s residence is a matter of privacy. Out of sight, out of mind.
Wire nets don’t equal mental health care
Perhaps the greatest irony and truly mischaracterization of public money is that the deterrent system will use $7 million from the Mental Health Services Fund established by Proposition 63. If the GGTD asked for $7 million to burnish their branding and marketing image from the Mental Health Services Fund, they would be laughed out of the room. Similarly the construction of a high wire safety net deterrent system is just as ludicrous use of mental health dollars as a marketing campaign for the City of San Francisco. But it is far easier for public agency to point to something they built, a suicide prevention net, as opposed to creating a real “safety net” for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
Don’t jump, use a gun!
Suicide sucks for the survivors. We all want to prevent it, but few of us want to get involved. Where’s the outrage and similar expenditure of public funds to prevent the estimated 18,000 suicides by gun each year? Oh, I forgot, no one has a constitutional right to the Golden Gate Bridge, but they do for firearms. Therefore, the GGTD would rather have people buy a gun and use it to end their life than jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. As long as the individual commits suicide at any other place, with any other means, the Physical Suicide Deterrent System works for the GGTD. In short, the net does as it is billed. It will be there to deter suicides, not prevent them.
Spend money, feel better
There is nothing wrong with jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide. It is no different than stepping in front of an on-coming train. But if installing the Physical Suicide Deterrent System makes some people sleep better at night, I guess we can just attribute that $76 million as mental health care for those who voted for it.