Famous tall buildings such as the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building were fitted with a structure soon after construction to prevent people from jumping off, usually after a number of suicides had occurred. However, these precautions were delayed at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It wasn’t until 2005, 68 years after it opened in 1937, that management agreed to build a barrier.
“There’s a certain magnetic pull to a place where people committed suicide, so it attracts other desperate souls,” says John Bateson, longtime director of a Bay Area suicide prevention center and author of The Final Leap, a 2012 book about suicide in prison. “And the Golden Gate Bridge exerts a greater magnetic pull than any other place, because of its natural beauty and its tragic history.”
With an average of 33.5 deaths per year, you can indeed speak of a tragic history. Jumping from the bridge is almost a guarantee of death, because only 1 in 50 survives the jump. In addition, there is a practical element that plays a reinforcing factor: the railing of the bridge is only 1.20 meters high. It’s easy to get over it, which invites you to take a leap at an impulsive moment.
But in the meantime, workers are almost finished installing 5.5 kilometers of stainless netting along both sides of the bridge. They blend in with the steelwork and are almost invisible from a distance. But anyone standing at the rail will see them. They hang about 20 feet lower than the bridge and extend about 20 feet. The nets have already proven to be a deterrent, but not a perfect solution. People still jump into the nets, which can also lead to death. Less effective and more painful than jumping into the water. Installing the nets took about seven years, three years longer than the construction of the bridge itself.
The bridge is a rare blend of form and function, somehow adding to the beauty of the area rather than detracting from it. But for many relatives it is primarily a painful, inescapable reminder of lost loved ones.
Anyone who has questions about suicide can contact the Suicide Line via the toll-free number 1813 or at www.zelfbloed1813.be.