In the summer of 2006, I stood in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along with about 1,100 others, I stretched and warmed up at Crissy Field, a green space bordering San Francisco Bay. I was in San Francisco at that time to participate in an "Out of the Darkness" walk, a 20-miler known as The Overnight, in which relatives and friends of those who had committed suicide commemorated the lives of their loved ones by going on this trek as the sun set.
The Overnight was sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise awareness about suicide. According to data from 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available, a suicide occurred that year every 13.7 minutes, as per the AFSP's Web site.
During the "Out of the Darkness" walk eight years ago, I could not help but think what an eerie synchronicity it was that 1,100 of us were gathering by the Golden Gate Bridge, which back then had served as the launching pad for roughly 1,200 suicides.
A recent New York Times article reported that, after what have now been approximately 1,600 suicides, the directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District are likely to "reverse longstanding policy and vote in favor of using toll money in addition to federal and state funds for a suicide barrier," a $66 million stainless-steel net that will not be visible from most vantage points and as a result will not detract from the majesty of the bridge.
Let us hope that the district directors do indeed vote in favor of this stainless-steel net, which will save countless lives. Too many suicidal people have been drawn to the fabled span for the same reason that the non-suicidal are drawn to it: its unparalleled beauty.
I can confirm from my own experience what many of the experts mentioned at hearings on the suicide barrier; people who are suicidal often act impulsively.
If we can make it more difficult for a suicidal person to commit the fatal act, the chances are that he or she will not commit suicide.
In 1997, as I have written before, I drove around Marina del Rey at about five in the morning. I was looking for a hotel room so that I could jump out of a window and kill myself.
A clerk behind the desk at one hotel punched in a few buttons on a computer screen. Presumably trained to detect signs of a desperate or suicidal person, he announced that no rooms were available.
Stymied, I was about to try the hotel across the street on Admiralty Way when a police car pulled into the driveway. That spooked me and forced me to alter my plans. I drove back to my Venice apartment and called my mother. I told her that I had been thinking about hurting myself.
At that point, though I did not realize it back then, I had beaten down the immediate threat to my life.
That is why I am not only in favor of a net or a barrier at the Golden Gate Bridge; it is why I am also in favor of much stronger gun control. Men, who are four times more likely than women to kill themselves, frequently use a gun to do the deed.
By throwing obstacles in the way of a suicidal person, we make it far less likely that a suicide will take place. The recent New York Times article cited a well-known 1978 study by a former Cal-Berkeley professor, which indicated that more than 90% of those who had survived suicide attempts on the bridge were still alive years later.
The results of the study underscore what many of us have known for some time: that suicidal ideation abates, and the heat diminishes, particularly when it is no longer easy to kill oneself. And the Cal-Berkeley study refutes the notion, trotted out there by those who do not understand the suicidal mind, that most suicidal people will find another way to take their lives. That is usually not true. Most suicidal people want to be saved; they call their loved ones to tell them that they have been suicidal, for this very reason.
Back in 2006, when I completed The Overnight, the 20-mile "Out of the Darkness" walk, I lighted a candle for my grandfather, who hanged himself.
I will never forget finishing that walk. It ended where it began, at Crissy Field, in the shadows of the Golden Gate Bridge, which will hopefully never see another suicide once a stainless-steel net is built.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.