|Call me cautiously optimistic.
In 2016, 39 people died jumping off the [Golden Gate] bridge, considered one of the top suicide magnets in the world. Another 184 came to the bridge intending to harm themselves but were stopped.
The deaths have scarred the bridge’s reputation and prompted local officials, lawmakers and families of those who died to call for the construction of barriers to deter people from jumping off the 220-foot-tall bridge.
For about a decade, officials have debated constructing such an obstacle, confronting a question that has been researched and scrutinized around the world: Do barriers to suicide stop people from taking their lives? Or will suicidal people simply find another alternative?
A wealth of studies and findings have supported an optimistic view. And the years-long effort finally culminated Thursday in an official launch of the construction of a $200 million stainless steel net along the bridge. The suicide deterrent system will span 1.7 miles of roadway on each side and will be located 20 feet down from the sidewalk, extending 20 feet out over the water. It will be built over four years, with an expected completion date in 2021.
Officials hope the net, made of thick steel cables, will deter people from jumping in the first place. If they jump, they’re likely to survive but with injuries. The net, suspended from posts, will have a slightly upward slope, and will collapse a bit if someone lands in it, making it difficult for the jumper to climb out, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The bridge district would use a retrieval device to pluck jumpers from the net.
Similar deterrent systems have been used successfully in various locations around the world, but never on this scale, bridge officials said in a news release. In support of such suicide deterrents, many have cited a breakthrough 1978 study at the Golden Gate Bridge showing that 90 percent of those stopped from jumping did not later die by suicide or other violent means. More broadly, a Harvard School of Public Health article reviewing numerous studies showing that nine out of 10 people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.
Other studies linked the installation of barriers to reductions in suicides at hotspots such as the Muenster Terrace in Bern, Switzerland, and the Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Maine. But as Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, noted in The Post, a major study in Toronto raised doubt, noting that after the installation of a barrier at Bloor Street Viaduct, suicides there dropped but increased by a comparable amount at other bridges and buildings in Toronto.
A later study from the University of Melbourne, however, combined findings across all prior studies and found that the net benefit of a suicide barrier is a 28 percent decrease in suicides by jumping per year."