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Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
Essays and Blogs Concerning Mental and Emotional Health

A Suicide Barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 29th 2008

golden gate bridge view from marin face onThe Golden Gate Bridge linking San Francisco with Marin County is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable spans in the world, and in the eyes of many, one of the most beautiful. It is also apparently the most popular spot in the world to commit suicide. Walkways with full pedestrian access on both sides of the bridge are separated from the ocean several hundred feet below by only a four foot high fence. As eeriely filmed in the 2006 documentary, comments to articles posted on the subject of the proposed barriers, people opposed to the project have expressed concerns that a barrier would: 1) ruin the beauty of the bridge, 2) would not be effective (because people would simply go somewhere else to kill themselves), 3) would be an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars better spent on improving mental health care options. People are also worried that building out a barrier would cost too much, and that a barrier would advertise the fact that the bridge is a popular suicide destination, and act to challenge or motivate people to kill themselves on the bridge rather than function as a deterrent. Most bizarrely to my mind, some people are concerned that the creation of an effective suicide barrier is an unwelcome infringement on the rights of suicidal people to do themselves in; that the "nanny state" should not be allowed to get in the way of someone motivated to harm themselves.

I can sympathize with some of this reasoning. The estimated cost of a suicide barrier (any of five currently proposed) is 50 million dollars which is not an insignificant sum by any measure. I honestly don't know if funneling 50 million dollars into Bay Area suicide prevention programs would prove more effective statistically than building out a physical suicide barrier on the bridge. However, I can't sympathize with many of the other reasons given for opposition, which seem to me to betray at best an ignorance of what we know about suicide, or at worst a very selfish attitude. While experiencing suicidal ideation (thoughts about wanting to commit suicide) are fairly common, most people don't act on such thoughts. Actual suicidal crises where people become motivated to kill themselves tend to be transient events that occur in response to worsening of mental illness conditions such as major depression and bipolar disorder. The urge to kill yourself is motivated by emotional pain and the usually unfounded perception that this pain will never lessen or become tolerable and death is the only escape. The thing is that in the majority of cases, a lessening of that emotional pain is likely to occur if the suicidal person can be prevented from acting on his or her urges during the worst part of their crisis. Treatment helps, of course, but even without treatment, symptoms tend to wane after a period of waxing and while they may not remit entirely, they will generally reduce back down to more tolerable levels if enough time is allowed to pass.

In my humble opinion, building a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, and in other popular suicide locations makes sense. Such barriers are designed as deterrents to make it more difficult for people to act upon suicidal impulses. While a barrier will not prevent people who are determined by any means to end their lives, it will interrupt the more impulsive ones, and by so doing, give them some of that time to safely come off the peak of their self-destructiveness. Hopefully, it will also help such people come to the attention of mental health professionals who can take further steps to reduce their suffering through appropriate treatment, but that is less certain.

What are your own thoughts regarding the construction of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge? Would this be a helpful thing, or would it be ineffective? Is it worth it to spend 50 million dollars to save some lives in this fashion or would it make more sense to use tax dollars for a different purpose. Is the need to preserve the current iconic shape of the bridge too important to allow for construction of a barrier, or is that just self-serving reasoning on the part of those who hold that objection? Which of the proposed barriers currently under consideration do you think makes the most sense to build? According to an article in today's San Francisco Chronicle, 75% of respondents in an unscientific poll (meaning a poll which cannot claim to be representative of actual opinion within the community) prefer no barrier be built at all, but the remaining 25% of respondents prefer the option of a net as opposed to a higher fence.

proposed suicide barriers for the golden gate bridgeArtist's renditions of five different suicide barrier plans under current consideration are posted on the Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project website. I have posted a small JPG version of the five barriers presently under consideration (a steel net system or different variations on a 12 foot fence to replace the current 4 foot fence); the full size (4.85 MB) PDF file from which I took this image can be downloaded here. Let us know what you think.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. was Director of Mental Help Net from 1999 to 2011. Presently, he is an Oakland Psychologist (Lic#PSY25695) in private practice offering evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and addressing a range of life problems. Contact Dr. Dombeck by calling 510-900-5123, send Dr. Dombeck email or visit Dr. Dombeck's practice website for more information.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

People jumping from the bridge is a bigger eyesore - John T - Jun 11th 2014

As of 2013, the number of people jumping from the bridge has risen to 46...

This is only going to go up with more publicity about the bridge being the #1 suicide spot.

A barrier will cost money to install, but so do search operations, corpse recovery, police, coroner, etc. There's also costs incurred for providing counselling/support for the personnel involved in the search & recovery operations. Over the years, this cost to society will add up and surpass the cost of the barrier itself.

So yes, barrier please.

An eye sore and waste of money we don't have. - David - Jan 28th 2013

While I understand the desire to help, this is not the best way.

The bridge is world famous.  Possbily one of the most famous landmarks in the USA.  Certainlly the most famous bridge by far.  It's Art Deco style was well thought out and the designer even made the rail low so people cuould look over without obstructon.  This will detract from the incredible beauty that makes it such a remarkable icon.

The net, assuming they meet the 50 million dollar price tag which is unliekly ill still add millions to maintenance & repair costs of the bridge for the life of the bridge.  

The money could be better spent offering a variety of suicide prevention programs, counceling increasing jobs in the process.  Jobs that would put the money back in to the economy.    

A net will not be fully effective.  It will still be possible for those so determined to simply jump to the net, then off the net.   Or worse, someone brings a gun to the bridge.  If they find dying at the bridge romatic, they will find a way.

Someone said PTSD in the Coast Guard?  Not a very good argument for the barrier.  Police forces of all kinds deal with traumatic scenes.  Pulling a body from the water is pretty much a requirement of the job.  Understanding and treating PTSD would be more effective and serve more people than a net.

Pollution of the Bay with a human body?  Not valid.  Human remains in the ocean have little if any effect.  A human body burried in the ground after embalming along with a metal casket much more toxic. 

Short if it is, no matter how much you wish to help... unless they want help, you can't stop them.  It is not being selfish to be for or aginst the barrier.   Everyone would like to help, we just have different opinions on the best way to do it.  I personally feel the money could be better spent and the deisgn of the bridge left at is it.   Stunning!  

 

In favor, but not opposed to suicide - Thomas Scheurich - Oct 22nd 2012

I am in favor of the barrier. Choosing this method of suicide is unfair to the search teams and bystanders who may be traumatized, and pollutes the common property of the bay with human remains. Even suicidal people are lazy and a barrier would prevent them from choosing this unsuitable method of suicide. 

With that said, it is reasonable to look at your life and the world around you and decide it makes more sense to kill yourself than go on living. Most people who arrive at this conclusion will never manage to go through with it and some will indeed change their minds, but I do not think it is bad for a person to die who has thought through the problem and decided that remaining alive makes no sense. 

I think the helium bag should be sold legally. It would come with a last appeal to its purchaser, there are people who want to talk to you, who believe they can convince you that life is worth living, help you work through methods to improve your lot. I'm sure this would bring back from the brink anyone that there was hope for. 

search and rescue - joanna - Jun 1st 2012

my brother suffers from PTSD. He was in the Coast Guard stationed at Golden Gate and did search and rescue.  (The "rescue" part was a joke.)  They are the ones who pull the bodies of jumpers out of the water. It has been five years and he still sees the faces of those who took their lives in crowds all the time. He is heavily medicated and his life on hold. Suicide is tragic but even more for the family and friends and those who have to clean up the mess.  I wish they would create a barrier.  My brother should be happily married and raising kids by now not living in my parents basement drinking heavily and trying to escape.

 

Selfish? - Sadie - Mar 8th 2011

Opposing a suicide barrier is selfish? I'm sorry but a person who takes their own life is the selfish one.

Not selfish to oppose barriers - Marc McGinnes - Sep 29th 2010

It is simply not true that those whose oppose costly (both in dollars and

Completely FOR the suicide barriers!!! - Sara - Jun 24th 2010

First, I want to say that anyone who is AGAINST the suicide barrier is completely selfish!! I'm sorry, but why wouldn't you want to at least try to save someone's life?! And even if you didn't succeed, at least you tried! Think about it: What if one of your best friends, your mom, your dad, anyone who was close to you decided to jump off that bridge? How would you feel? Put yourself in other people's shoes, and think about how their lives are now that someone very important to them decided to take their own life, and it wasn't even prevented.

I've been suicidal before, I know what it's like to desperately want to kill yourself. I've been struggling with depression for awhile, but it's getting better. I've started to realize that I would hurt a bunch of people if I decided to jump off the bridge, or if I decided to kill myself another way. But for some people, they don't think about that. They don't come to the realization that things can only go up once you've hit rock bottom. Some people think that killing themselves is the only way to achieve happiness. And a lot of those people decide to go to the Golden Gate Bridge to do exactly that. Sure, there are other ways to kill yourself. Sure, there are other bridges to jump off. But since this bridge is the most popular bridge to commit suicide, why has nothing been done to try to stop it?! Sure, it costs a lot of money. But it's worth sparing a family the heartache that a suicide brings, it's worth saving a life. Sure, you might think that the Golden Gate Bridge may "lose its beauty" if barriers are put up. But again, it's WORTH it.

Would you want your loved one(s) to jump off this bridge? What if they did? Would you still be against the suicide barriers? I don't think so. Think about someone else before you. This whole thing is completely ridiculous, and I think that it's more than just the money. It's lives. It's lives that'll be saved. It's knowing that we'll be able to live in a safer country, and it's comforting to know that one of your loved ones just might be saved from death. Isn't it?

My sister . . . - Nicole - May 23rd 2010

I'm writing this spontaneously, anonymously, but . . . my sister recently ended her life by jumping off of the golden gate bridge. she suffered from schizophrenia for years, but still led an incredible life, including teaching english in russia, learning how to sail on the mediterranean off of sicily,  exploring latin america, volunteering for various animal shelters literally all over the world, and being a wonderful daughter and sister. she was bright, beautiful, and living her life to the fullest. and then, one day, when i had just returned from a trip to asia the night before, we made plans to meet at fort mason, she wasn't there, and i received the call from my dad that my sister had jumped from the golden gate bridge and ended her life. . .

from the beginning of her illness, the golden gate bridge was a fixation of hers. even though i can't imagine her ending her life, the fact that she chose to end it there somehow made sense. she'd always, when sick, thought about suicide and the bridge . . . 

and so i have to wonder, would she be dead if there were a barrier? would she have found another way to end her life? would i still have a sister if there were just a simple fence at lightpost 107. i believe a deterrent to jumping would have saved her life . . . i believe she was fixated irrationally (due to her mental illness) on the bridge, and had there been a physical barrier, i would still have my sole sibling.

her death just happened. i'm angry and frustrated and alone and devastated, and willing to do anything to prevent others from feeling this. if there's a way my story can help prevent others from suffering this fate . . . i'm here. 

i love you, lisa. always

Golden Gate Bridge - Nancy - Apr 29th 2010

This barrier net has an “estimated cost between $40 to $50 million” and like most every other government construction job, will no doubt be much closer to $100 million in cost over runs and corruption. tag on many thousands a year in maintenance the net will demand. the net will stop many suicides from the bridge, but it will never stop everyone that wants to end their life by jumping from the golden gate bridge. a net may catch the jumpers, but they will figure out a way around a net. then there is the very likelihood that anyone caught in the net and injured in any way, will sue and win large sums of money for having created a structure that injures people that jump into it. Harbour Bridge anyone caught in the net will also need to be rescued from it. the rescuers will also likely get injured doing their job and that too will result in lawsuits and disability issues. sorry, john, but your cute little net will not save everyone. those that are stopped may well find another way to check themselves out. you will never stop suicide and you should stop worrying so much about it. people have the right to die by their own hand and you need to let them make up their own minds.

I am FOR the suicide barrier!!! - - Oct 30th 2009

In my opinion it’ll help a GREAT deal to invest in a suicide barrier. There are some people whom the barrier might not prevent from harming themselves however it’ll prevent the majority that view the bridge as an “easy-way-out” from their problems. The reason I feel this way is from the movie “the bridge”…when they were talking about Hines and right when he jumped he immediately regretted it. If a suicide barrier were put up it would not only help salvage the bridges tarnished reputation (no more jumpers) but save lives of people who are in a rough spot in their lives. Yes, if some people have it in them that they are going to die and don’t want to live anymore then with that type of determination they will find a way. But it’ll help the REST of the them..that are just going through a tough time and don’t have anyone to talk to. Those are the people that should be in focus when they talk about the barrier. Bring in Hines!! Have him tell his story and how grateful he is to still be alive. The government needs to stop being a “grinch” and grow a HEART!!!

 

PUT UP THE BARRIER!!!! SAVE LIVES!!!

 

AGAINST - (NONE) - Aug 11th 2009

I am very against the suicide barrier on the GGB.

Yes Building a suicide barrier on the GGB COULD... COULD help prevent suicide. But if you're that determined to take your life. You're going to do it. Whether its jumping off of a Beautiful iconic landmark , or over dosing.The only reason this is getting any attention is because the bridge is a known landmark. Otherwise you wouldnt be hearing about these suicides if the person did this in their own home. Also not to mention that the Golden Gate Bridge is very sensitive to wind and built to withstand earthquakes and 100 mile per hour winds.Very small changes to the structure of the bridge can have a very large and dramatic impact to the bridge's aerodynamic stability.

What happens after when there is a suicide barrier and an earthquake happens and the bridge and everyone on it collapse into the Bay?

by building this barrier you're putting other peoples lives in danger who simply take their morning jog across the bridge.

The bridge is historic and there should be no changes made to it.

 

 

Think about the lives - Hillary - May 20th 2009

I say that the barrier should be built even though I know it will not stop a suicidal person. It costs $50 Million dollars and people say that is not worth 24 lives lost a year, but what about in 50 years? That is 1200 lives lost, is that worth the $50 million dollars now?

I was a cutter, attempted suicide and I go to therapy now. I know that nothing would stop a suicidal person. But, I do know that if people did stop and talk to people a little more like "M" stated it would help a heck of a lot. Talking things through always brings people back to their senses and people need to break out of their "perfect" world and talk to and help those that have a not so "perfect" world.

Suicide is such a touchy subject that people choose not to talk about it. It needs to be talked about. I have a hard time talking about it myself, but the more I talk about it, mainly with my therapist, the more I become comfortable with it and not comfortable in a good way persay. I mean comfortable as in I can talk about it and not feel so ashamed for my actions. Anyone who attempts suicide becomes very shameful because they are afraid of what anyone would think if they knew they attempted suicide. But, I believe that if it is talked about more then people will become okay with it and it won't be such a hidden fact about society. It needs to be talked about to save the suicidal people in this world.

Off of my talk about suicide again I say the barrier should be built or just an easier solution is to close the walk way altogether, it might make people mad because they can't walk across the bridge, but it might help save those 24 lives lost every year. Plus for some jumping might be their only solution and if that bridge is taken away from their options then they will have to choose something else taking them longer to commit suicide and in turn making them think about it which might make them not attempt it at all.

So true - Catmom - Apr 13th 2009

"More benefit would be gained by people stopping and talking than putting up a sheet of glass... "This comment by "M" was very poignant to me.  Isn't it a shame that we don't even consider that a stranger might reach out to somone ready to jump off a bridge?  Instead, we propose spending millions to divert the problem of suicide to some other method.I, myself, have not been suicidal since I was in my teens 30+ years ago, but the times I feel most hopeless is when I try to connect with others in this anonymous world.  "M" helped me to see the problem of "The Bridge" from a completely different perspective.  For this, I am very grateful.  Thanks, "M!"  And- I am sorry for your obvious despair about life.

The Bridge - following the documentary - M - Apr 10th 2009

Ive just watched the documentary movie this evening on The Bridge.  Dont watch it if you are likely to be shaken.  My brother took his own life in January, not by jumping from anywhere, and I have considered it for other reasons this last year.

My thoughts?  Theres a whole lot of noise about suicide, those who think a barrier will help are either the noisy ones or have no real concept of the issue.  I searched for information about suicide lots of times and other than platitudes all I heard was 'look at me' type comments.  Not wanting to take away from others pain I contemplated my thoughts quietly, had a plan, and stood by it quietly.  It seems that seperately (I have the notes) my brother did the same.  The noisy ones will stand and retreat when someone will listen, the others will take the step, quietly.

There is, I believe, no easy way to go for either those trying to commit or those left behind.  A barrier simply moves the problem.  It makes the step that little more difficult but it does not stop the pain.  

The cost benefit argument is a relatively simple one, what cost a life...  Simple in industry (at least in the UK) but what cost those millions of tourists who walk the bridge with the wind in their face.  Add up all the cents those folks would pay for their feelings.  Its a controversial discussion Im sure but I deal in these arguments within industry every day, every death is a tragedy but by the same token with my own experiences do I then lobby against cars with open exhaust systems?  Do I lobby against garden hoses?  Or for the numbers of times Ive stood beside the cold North Sea do I lobby against access to water?

This post is difficult to write because I know it will hurt those left behind.  As one of those about to take the step recently, I know I would have left pain, would have left hurt.  I was at the waters edge any number of times and I dont know why I stopped, all I know is that this is the FIRST time I have written about my actions and thoughts and I know a barrier is not the answer for those who want to find a way.  

As for the documentary, I feel strangely more at peace about both myself and my brother but I cried all the way through.  If you can watch the documentary then do so and think about how all those in the background could walk on by. 

More benefit would be gained by people stopping and talking than putting up a sheet of glass...

worth the money - - Mar 31st 2009

You may not think that 24 lives a year is worth spending $50 million.....well thats until it's your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend, husband, wife etc, then it will be you asking the questions...why did the authorirtes and people in power do nothing?

Dig a little deeper - David - Jan 28th 2009

Many of the comments here focus on two things. 

First, there are those who claim that the proposed suicide prevention net will not deter the most determined of suicides.  True, someone who is determined to take his or her life will simply find another way.  However, it has been proven that removing access to means is the best way to prevent suicide.  A net will do exactly that for the vast majority of people contemplating suicide.  And studies show that such barriers have NOT shifted attempted suicides to other nearby locations.  A barrier stops the impulse and provides the person a chance to decompress and seek help.

Second, there are those who claim $50 million is too much to spend to save 24 lives a year.  Let's dig a little deeper and recognize the huge cost to society imposed by the loss of those 24 lives - not the least of which are expensive search and rescue operations, and the staggering mental and psychological toll suicide places on rescuers and survivors.

Now, multiply those costs by decades.  When does $50 million become worth it?  After Year 2?  Year 5?  When does a $50 million investment in saving lives tip the scale?

I say, build the barrier.  Save lives in the short term.  Save money in the long term.

What a selfish society - Sami - Nov 20th 2008

I happen to live in San Francisco and cannot believe it when I hear people saying that they are opposed to building a fence, or better yet, a net system UNDER the bridge, that would prevent 100% of the suicides that occur each year at the Golden Gate Bridge. I know there are a lot of seemingly good arguments about why we should not consider such an alternative. But, for crying out loud, the people who commit suicide are mentally ill, and their illness is totally treatable. Why not spend such a small amount of $40 - $50 million (yeah that is a very small amount if you compare it to the $700 BILLION we're giving away to Wall Street companies, on top of the $200 Billion we already pumped into AIG) to build a net system that would not even change the historic significance of the bridge. I do believe that people have free will and that society should not interfere with their free will. But, again, these people are mentally ill, and their illness can be treated. But, they cannot be treated if we let them jump off the bridge. If we do let them, well, that's kind of like letting cancer patients die off because treating them would be costly...Let me just put it this way, IF YOU KNEW THAT BUILDING A FENCE OR A NET SYSTEM UNDER THE GGB WOULD SAVE YOUR CHILD'S LIFE, WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE? WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE? Then go ahead and send an email to SF Mayor Gavin Newsom (apparently youtube does not allow us to post links, so please google Gavin Newsom and click on "Visit his personal website" then click on contact Mayor Newsom.

Opposed to barrier - Sarah - Oct 11th 2008

A close friend killed himself by jumping out of a hotel window in Las Vegas.  I have also suffered from depression myself throughout my life.  Nevertheless, I oppose the suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge.   I don't think society is responsible for protecting people from themselves.  If I want to jump off the bridge, I don't think it is anyone's job to stop me.  I don't blame the hotel in Las Vegas for my friend's death.  It was his decision and his decision alone.  Millions of people enjoy the bridge WITHOUT killing themselves, yet we are going to spend $40-$50 million to save a handful of suicidal people.  I say "handful" because compared to the number of people who kill themselves by other means, the number of bridge suicides is really not very significant.  I realize that's a hard truth for the people personally affected, but they have to accept that their tragedy is a personal tragedy and they shouldn't turn their tragedy into a crusade to restrict the freedom of others.

what about help - - Oct 6th 2008
but if you put up a barrier there is that 24 for that would be save is much more worthy than 50 mil and then 1 person dying just think about it

Free Will - richelle - Sep 20th 2008

Unfortunately a barrier would do little to prevent the ones that are hell bent on committing suicide.  Another spot would just be chosen.  A lot of people have mental illness but many are wanting out of life.  And they have a right to make that decision.  Most who are not successful will try again.  Why not put that money into education, suicide prevention, mental health agencies that can help.  I know for one having had problems with anxiety and depression that i could not get a psychiatrist and had to go to great lengths to treat it.  No one would help me unless i had money and most insurance plans do not include psychiatry.  My psychiatrist  Dr. Erkicsen committed suicide 2 years ago.  What does that say for us all that needed him, maybe too much for him to bear.  that 50 million could be better spent on education and help for those that are not blessed with wealth.  If you are not wealthy, then you suffer needlessly.  Its ridiculous to spend that kind of money to stop something that people are going to do anyhow.  Look at the statistics.  80 percent will try again and most likely succeed. 

Other Factors - - Sep 19th 2008

From a purely economic standpoint I don't see that spending $50MM to save 24 lives a year is worth it.  And the reality is in a democracy there is always a cost/benefit analysis that needs to be made. I also agree with the argument that if you prevent the bridge from being the chosen spot you've simply diverted it to some other mechanism - so in reality you're not really preventing or addressing the issue as you may think.  Another thing to consider is that not everyone who wants to commit suicide has a mental illness - some may have a terminal illness and rather than suffering a painful, extended death they choose, in their right mind, to decide the right time for themselves.  It that sense, the bridge may provide hope and comfort.  One argument is that it's immoral not to prevent people from taking their lives.  I agree if they have a mental illness that clouds their judgement.  But it can also be agrued that it is cruel and immoral to allow terminally ill people to suffer needlessly and painfully if they choose not to. 

no barrier an inexplicable tragedy - Michelle - Sep 12th 2008

With the Golden Gate Bridge by far the biggest suicide magnet in the world, why after more than 1300 deaths is there still no barrier?  It is shameful and terribly sad.  There is no excuse for this--no rationale against the barrier holds even an ounce of morality.  Even after the documentary showing all those poor, desperate people dying.  Compassion is needed to make the right decision.       

suicide prevention - patrick Kevin Hines - Aug 21st 2008

No one jumps from the Bay Bridge - you know why ? 

There is no walkway - no access - just like the Eiffel Tower  and the Empire State Building - no access. 

The key to preventing suicide is eliminating access to the means of death. Suicide is an impetuous act a permanant soultion for a temporary problem.

Barricade helps - Rajesh Yedida - Jul 30th 2008

A barricade definitely helps to prevent at least some suicides. As you said the suicidal impulse doesn't sustain for too long in many people. So a barricade can definitley deter such people. But when it comes to the money, it would help if we have some data about the number of sucides on the bridge.

 

 

Opposed - Julie M - Jul 30th 2008

Although I have never entertained suicidal thoughts, if I did and went to SF to jump off the bridge and there was a barricade, I would go to the Bay Bridge or jump off a ferry on the way to Alcatraz or any number of things. I would think that when you are so far down a pit of dispair that you would rather off yourself instead of appealing to friends, family and the many social programs available for help, then you will get the intended job done no matter what.

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