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Monday, July 7, 2014

Suicide-Proofing The Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge (wallyg/Flickr)

Last week, the board that oversees the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco approved $76 million to install steel suicide “nets” to prevent suicides. (wallyg/Flickr)

Suicide prevention activists have long called for a way to prevent people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, but officials have resisted, citing cost and design concerns.

Last week, the board that oversees the Golden Gate Bridge voted to approve $76 million to install steel suicide “nets” that would hang largely out of sight 20 feet under the walkways of the iconic bridge in San Francisco Bay.

Since the bridge opened in 1937, there have at least 1,600 suicides of people jumping off it. Last year, there was a suicide or an attempt almost every other day.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks to Denis Mulligan, general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge district, who cites research that shows suicide barriers stop people from attempting to kill themselves.

Hobson also speaks with Kevin Hines, one of the few people who survived a suicide jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. He now gives suicide prevention talks. Hines says a sea lion in San Francisco Bay helped him survive his jump, and argues that a net would have stopped him from jumping in the first place.

Interview Highlights: Kevin Hines

On surviving the jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge

“I went down about 70 to 80 feet, but then I opened my eyes, and I thought, ‘What the heck?’ I thought I was hallucinating this entire event. I thought I couldn’t have just done that. That didn’t just happen. And I wouldn’t be alive — so, of course, it didn’t just happen. But when I finally resurfaced after initially going down — and after nearly passing out and drowning — I broke the surface, I bobbed up and down in the water, and I simply prayed, ‘God please save me I don’t want to die, I just made a mistake.’ As I bobbed up and down in the water, swallowing salt water and trying to stay afloat only using my arms because my legs were completely immobile, something brushed by my legs. I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I didn’t die off this bridge and now a shark is gonna devour me?’ Turns out it was not a shark, it was, in fact, a sea lion. The people above looking down, who were on the bridge, believed it to be keeping me afloat until the Coast Guard boat arrived.”

On choosing the Golden Gate Bridge

“It wasn’t a cognitive decision, but the reason I went there was because I had seen a website by accident the night prior as I searched for a method. Sadly, there are websites out there that promote suicide. They’re made by, in my opinion, evil people. They are websites that say whoever you are, wherever you are in your life, you should die. Just because. That’s what they’re big proponents of. And this website said that if you go to San Francisco and you go to the Golden Gate Bridge and you jump off it, you will die upon impact. Good luck. Exclamation point. And for me, as sick as I was, that was a calling card. It mentioned about the height of the rail and it would just be easy, and, as they described, painless. And that’s the furthest from the truth. There are tens of ways to die off the Golden Gate bridge — none of which are painless. They’re all terribly violent, slow deaths.”

On finding closure

“I went back with my father a year after the attempt. And, ya know… we’re driving — he said, ‘Kevin, we’re gonna take a drive.’ And I saw where we were going and I said, ‘Dad, what’re you doing?’ and he goes, ‘Well, we gotta find some closure Kev.’ We stopped by a flower bed on the way and he said, ‘Pick a flower.’ So I picked a flower from the flower bed. And we got in the car and went all the way out to the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot and we parked and he walked with me to exactly where I jumped. We said a prayer and we dropped the flower. The flower hit the water and, two feet to the right, popped up a sea lion. So, I know I’m supposed to be here, and I know there’s a reason why. I guess, I’ll just be finding that reason out as life goes on.”

Guest


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  • RAOUL ORNELAS

    This is an old song for San Francisco. Since 1973 San Francisco has been trying to remedy the suicide problem at the Golden Gate Bridge. All anti suicide Golden Gate Bridge ideas have failed. It was like the old adage, build it (anti suicide schemes) and they will come. Some of the brightest and the best commit suicide and will be able how to get around anti suicide devices. What should be done is to charge a suicide fee in order to recoup all the wasted tax payers money to stop Golden Gate Bridge suicides. The other idea would be do eliminate illegal drugs in San Francisco. Most of the these people got into their depression suicide moods via drugs like LSD, however, like the rest of America San Francisco is addicted to drugs and kook culture.

    • mike

      Yes, is there something that will prevent people from jumping off the net?

      Seems to me it would be better to make the railing on the walkway tall enough to stop someone from climbing over it. That’s what they’re doing on Portland Oregon’s “suicide bridge”: an 8 ft plexiglass wall anchored to the existing railing.

      • RAOUL

        Won’t work. What is interesting from a study in 1973, the majority of the people who make the leap into eternity always want to face the city for (apparently) one last look at the City. Another idea is to create a water slide (charge a fee of course) but locate the slides (two) one on the north end and one on south end. The idea is when one make the leap (slide) into briny depths he or she will have a second chance to contemplate whether they really want to commit suicide. With this genius method, there would be life guards, on shifts 24/7, posted at each end of the water slides. I mean, we could make long term jobs for both the builders of the slides and for the lifeguards something Republicans don’t want to address plus we would make a dent into mental health issues, also something Republicans also don’t want to address because it will cost money……. that is unless they get another tax break for their wealthy base!
        As for your Portland bridge problem, it is also a hopeless endeavor. The only way one would be able to resolve the Portland suicide bridge problem is one would have to first clear out all the drunks and drug addicts from Burnside!!!

      • RAOUL

        PART II

        A plexiglass solution to stop suicides may cause more harm then good. What if a person does a run-leap charge off a bridge and slams into the plexiglass which bounces him or her ten feet back resulting in a concussion which in turn causes brain damage and the person has to be induced into a coma for a six months to twenty years and said person does not have medical insurance!?! I mean, the scenarios are endless. Then there is the problem of Portland having too many bridges on on Willamette and Columbia rivers all within about five miles of each other and with great views of Portland, Mt. Hood. The selection is tantalizing and delicious yet at the same time confusing for a person contemplating suicide. Which bridge to jump from may cause a suicide person to seek the help of a psychiatrist in order for him or her to resolve the best Portland bridge for the grand finally. Granted, the jumper would have endless views of the City of Roses.
        Rarely if ever does one hear or read about a person jumping from the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Why is this? Answer: Most likely because of the view. It is anomaly that a person wishing to jump from said bridge is able to see Astoria, Oregon because of the intensity of the rain. And, no one wants to jump facing Altoona, Washington to the east because of the bleakness of the terrain which will only add depression to a person already depressed, besides, one may end up in Skamokawa, Washington where no one will ever know that a person made the great leap into fate.

        • mike

          I agree with you that all the usual solutions to suicide tend to be “band-aids”. Real solutions (if there are any) would require conservation Americans to change their attitude toward their fellow Americans and have some compassion and Christian charity.

          But, since getting some empathy into people is unlikely, quick fixes are better than the usual nothing.

          • RAOUL

            America no longer has Christian Charity or empathy for anyone earning less than $50,000 a year and his or her skin pigment is not pure pink/white. Perhaps the ultimates solution to bridge suicides is not build bridges. Therefore, city fathers would have to make choices: Either the commerce produced for a city that uses bridges or the mental health of a person wishing to commit suicide? My bet is on commerce produced by bridges. These days in non common sense, non bi-partisan America, we can’t have both.

  • Kestrel

    THank you, Kevin, for your courage and sharing your story. May you save many others.

  • Dannahsaur

    Thank you so much for this amazing story and thanks for reporting from this perspective. Kevin was clearly meant to live.

  • teflack

    Mr. Mulligan cites a 1978 study of attempted suiciders to see if they re-attempted. Unfortunately, a study nearly 40 years old tells little about the habits of modern-day suiciders. We have cell phones, social network, cyber bullying, setting, etc. the millennial generation has a completely different mindset than the baby boomers. Where’s that study?

  • it_disqus

    This is a PR thing. They don’t want to let the bridge continue to have the reputation it does. Your guest said that he was looking for a way to kill himself and if the bridge was not an option the internet would have provided him another way. This is 76 million spent so suicidal people do it in their own homes an we don’t have to see it. It is fine that they want to not have the bridge associated with suicide, but the 76 million is not about saving mentally ill people.

    • RAOUL

      Exactly. When one commits suicide its about being seen by others similar to those that enjoy parading themselves in front of millions of fans at a red carpet event such as the Academy Awards or the Emmy Awards. A suicide person need his or her last 15 milliseconds of fame before and during the act of jumping. If it were not for the Academy Awards, the Emmys, the Cannes Film awards, or the Palm de Or or the endless awards that seem to take place almost monthly, there would be a hell of a lot more suicides in their home countries from bridges. Actually a suicide is a form of meeting one of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs…… in this case, eternity. On the other hand the 76 million is meeting the hierarchy of buffoonery greed needs paid for with tax payers money.

  • EpicMedia DesignGroup

    Video of the amazing Golden Gate Bridge:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7Yw34GkimQ

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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