Although this is a rather one-sided polemic in support of a suicide prevention barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge, which has been the site of 1500 confirmed* suicides so far, (or 3 a month)The Final Leap by John Bateson is also very enlightening about people who commit suicide in general, which as a person who has suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts for most of my adult life is saying something.
Suicidal people are not different from us at all. We are all here in this book:the artists, the housewives, mechanics, bartenders, psychiatrists, journalists, security guards, athletes, managers, magnates, nurses, clerks, students, unemployed. The rich and poor, sick and well, young and old, married, single, widowed.
It goes on. My point is that, whoever you think you are now, you are on this list. The death of a loved one, a deal gone bad, a job loss, a blow to the head, a shift in hormones, a debilitating car accident, insomnia. Even tinnitus, which roughly 10% of people will suffer, can drive people to their deaths.
People kill themselves for myriad reasons. Some have struggled with chronic depression, physical pain, mental illness or grief or PTSD. Some do it on pure impulse, some due to pressure at school or work or low self-esteem.
All my life I have been of the opinion that people should be allowed to kill themselves if it is too painful to live but of course many who commit suicide are either not in a rational frame of mind or are too young to have all the information they need to make such a huge decision, like the 14-year-old Marissa Imrie who paid $150 for a cab ride to the bridge and then jumped.
The argument is that the Golden Gate makes it too easy, that many who have used it to kill themselves would not look for an alternative solution when thwarted. According to The Final Leap, studies show that potential suicides do not have Plan B.
For instance, in the UK after coal gas was replaced by the much less toxic natural gas after finds in the North Sea the suicide-by-gas rate plummeted from an annual 2,368 in the 50s and 60s to 11 in recent years while over the same period the general suicide rate dropped by 26% and stayed there regardless of economic recessions and the like.
I am inclined to believe this as I myself once stuck my head in a gas oven while depressed and the only thing that had saved me was that it wasn’t working. Typical!I did not go looking for a knife or a gun or pills. I just went to bed.
To back this up, of the 35 survivors of leaps from the Golden Gate, only two of have gone on to kill themselves, one from the bridge again. One survivor says he changed his mind as soon as he let go. Another survivor told how she found herself climbing over the railing and jumping without knowing why. Pure whim.
I have read recently that studies suggest that these whims we have-to jump off a cliff or drive into oncoming traffic-may be, ironically, the brains way of protecting us, of telling us that a situation is dangerous. We are all of us subject to whims.
There are a lot of heart breaking stories and facts here, from the teenager who is bothered by his procrastination habit to the note left by a man who lived alone: “I’m going to the bridge. If one person smiles at me a long the way I won’t jump.” He did.
And so I finished the book feeling there should be a barrier, that many lives could be saved, that families could be spared grief and the rescue workers, the bridge workers, the Police and the Coastguard could be spared huge trauma if there was one there.
Personally, I have a rule when I am considering any sort of change:try it and if it doesn’t work what harm?Change it back.
There is the cost of course but there are governments agencies and philanthropists out there who are giving far greater sums to far less worthy cause. Surely it’s possible?
As for the aesthetics(bizarrely the biggest argument against a barrier)there are many ways now to create beautiful barriers but if not, sod it. We are talking about more than a view here.
The author is a little one-sided and relentless and mentions of the barrier are repetitive. I have also read reviews that claimed some of his information(not all) was not factual or biased and I thought he did not present the opposing view in any detail however my own experience would suggest a barrier would save many lives.
Regardless of your opinion on the barrier The Final Leap is worth reading if you want to know more about what moves a person to end it all. I found it was well written-though he did mention the barrier A LOT-and I read it in one sitting. It certainly shifted my perception of those who have killed themselves. Be warned though: it is a very sad read and the list of names that goes on for pages and pages at the end is heart breaking.
*Since 1937. Not all bodies found near the bridge are considered suicides though many if not most are obviously just that. If there are no witnesses and no proof, if the body has been moved by the powerful tide then they are not added to the statistics. Also many bodies, due to the height, rupture on impact and so sink never to be found. The real toll is probably well over 1500.