In the story "The Bridge" from Daniel Orozco's collection of short stories Orientation, one man is traumatized when he witnesses a woman commit suicide by jumping from the bridge he's employed to paint. Though the story is fictional, suicide jumping is an all too frequent occurrence in real life. The Golden Gate Bridge, located in San Francisco, California, holds the macabre record for being the world's most popular suicide point, with an estimated 1,550 deaths having occurred at the national landmark.
The pedestrian walkway stands approximately 220 feet above the San Francisco Bay, and, according to an article in The New Yorker (2003), "Jumpers who hit the water do so at about seventy-five miles an hour and with a force of fifteen thousand pounds per square inch. Eighty-five per cent of them suffer broken ribs, which rip inward and tear through the spleen, the lungs, and the heart... Those who survive the impact usually die soon afterward. If they go straight in, they plunge so deeply into the water, which reaches a depth of three hundred and fifty feet, that they drown."
Erecting a preventative barrier on the bridge (above the 4-foot railing currently in place) has been debated since the 1950s and has produced many passionate arguments from people on both sides. While those in favor of the barrier claim that it would save dozens of lives every year, those against it often argue that it would be costly, would diminish the magnificence of the landmark, or that the barrier would not actually prevent suicidal people from hurting themselves, that they would merely find another way to do it.
However, in February 2010, a preferred alternative plan was finally approved: to install a Net System under the bridge to effectively catch suicide jumpers, estimated to cost $45 million. Until the system is put in place, crisis counseling telephones and organized patrols are still available, which, according to the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project, have prevented about 70 percent of total attempted suicides.
In 2004, filmmaker Eric Steel made a documentary entitled The Bridge (released in 2006), in which he documents - and in many cases films - each suicide that occurred that year and interviews mental health professionals, witnesses, and the family members left behind. While receiving both praise for its honesty and criticism for its sensationalism, some people such as Celia Kupersmith, CEO of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, fear that the film will inspire copycat jumpers, an all too common phenomenon. You can watch the trailer for the film below.
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Photo by Rich Niewiroski Jr.
This article was originally published in June 2011, and has been updated for the
May 2012 paperback release.
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