The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is a high risk location for suicide – claiming 46 lives in 2013, and more than 1,600 lives since 1937, including people from both within and outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. It is critical that over time we remove the Golden Gate Bridge as a place for suicide, saving countless lives in California and helping set the stage for similar, life-saving advances on other bridges across the country.
The “Golden Gate Bridge Physical Suicide Deterrent System Project” was initiated in 2006 by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. There have been extensive studies done regarding the best prevention method to install, multiple public hearings, a proposal and contract on design work and years of discussion on how the construction would be funded.
A new federal law, MAP-21-Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (PL-112-141) was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012, and specifically provides that “…nets on bridges” are eligible for federal funding. This means that over half of the $76 million expected cost of the barriers should be covered by federal funds. On June 27th, the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District approved another $20 million for the project. The last piece of funding, $7 million, should come from the city at the end of this month.
In addition to the human cost, suicide cost the state of California an estimated $3.2 billion in combined lifetime medical and work loss cost in 2005 (most current year data available). This averages to about $1 million per suicide death. In 2013, there were 46 documented suicides by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. This means that last year alone, the bridge cost the state $46 million. It will take just a few short years for the bridge barrier to pay for itself.
Studies done on bridge barriers consistently show that barriers reduce suicide rates and do not lead to suicide attempt increases on nearby bridges. In 2004, AFSP helped fund one such study done in Bristol, England, home of the world’s oldest suspension bridge. The bridge was the site of 41 suicides between 1994 and 1998. A partial barrier was built in 1998, and the number of suicides from the bridge was reduced to 20 over the next five years. There were no significant increases in jumps from other structures in the area (Bennewith et al., 2007).
We know that bridge barriers give suicidal individuals and those who care for them something they desperately need – time. This includes time to change their minds, time for someone to intervene, and time to seek help. Limiting access to lethal means, combined with encouraging help-seeking behavior, increases the possibility for others to intervene and have a profound effect on reducing suicide (Cox et al., 2013). This is what advocating for bridge barriers is ultimately about; saving lives.