Earlier this week, a short op-ed of mine aired on our local NPR radio station, KQED. I wrote about why I believe adding a safety net to the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent more suicides is a good idea. I received positive comments from friends and others who heard the piece. But–not that it was a total shocker –I also got some pretty harsh feedback.
One reason I wrote this piece is that I read an article that said one recent jumper was a young doctor with bipolar disorder. In another article, the mother of a teen boy who committed suicide from the bridge last year said she believed he was suffering from his first episode of bipolar disorder. Suicide is something my daughter has talked about since she was in kindergarten. While I know the odds of her leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge–which we live near and drive across several times a week–are slim, I want that net there just in case. I want it there to save ANYONE tempted to act on what is usually a fleeting urge to kill themselves. Studies show that those who survive jumping off the bridge rarely try to commit suicide again. Anyway, thought I’d post the piece here. I’d love to know what you think…
Catch Me If I Fall
I didn’t know when we moved to Marin eight years agothat I was the mother of a child who fits the profile of those especially vulnerable to the deadly lure of the Golden Gate Bridge. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age five, my daughter often fixates on wanting to die when she’s unstable. It was chilling to hear her sob – when she was in kindergarten — that she didn’t want to be on this planet anymore. Last fall, when she was 11, I could barely hide my fear when she told me she’d not only been thinking about killing herself, she’d thought of ways to do it. They didn’t include jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. And thankfully, they weren’t realistic.
Still, when I drive across the iconic span, steely ocean churning beneath, I sometimes can’t help thinking the unthinkable. My grip on the steering wheel tightens as I recall the day I walked into my girl’s preschool to find a somber group of teachers and parents whispering by the storage cubbies. They were talking about a seemingly happy local high school student who’d peddled his bike to the bridge and plunged to his death. I ached for him and his parents; I couldn’t imagine how they could go on with their lives after he ended his.
If the controversial suicide barrier first proposed in the seventies had been in place then, his life and many others might have been saved. Those lucky enough to survive a jump rarely try to kill themselves again.But suicides from the bridge —1600 have been confirmed since it opened in 1937—are increasing. A record 46 people leapt to their deaths last year. And their ages are getting younger.
In a few years, I’ll have far less control over my daughter than I do today. I won’t always be around to assure her that an intense spell of despair will pass. If there’s even a remote chance that she’d ever consider jumping from the bridge, I want that net there to catch her.
This piece originally aired on KQED Perspectives. Click here to listen to the audio version.