Should Bridges Be Suicideproof?
The answer, to most of us, is obvious.
Tom Keane, a freelance writer, believes however that bridges shouldn’t be suicide-proofed because he suggests it could make the problem worse. What problem — people jumping from bridges? No, suicide rates.
Generally when someone makes such a bold statement like this, they’ll have some pilot studies or other research that shows such a causal link — that in places where a bridge has no suicide barrier, the suicide rate is lower than in places that do.
Instead, Keane makes a circular argument based upon flawed logic. He doesn’t cite any academic or empirical research study that’s been done. He simply cite’s one state’s entire statewide suicide rate to make the claim about one single bridge in the state.
Keane, a savvy writer, also appeals to our emotions with a story about how bridges that don’t have barriers have increased human surveillance. But he cites only one example — the local Tobin bridge — where that is the case. Keane has no idea whether such increased surveillance is actually commonplace on bridges where suicide is popular. Of course suicide rates should be expected to go down with any type of intervention. A suicide barrier would make the rate drop even further, down to 0.
But Keane has answer to this — suicides are simply taking place elsewhere.
This contradicts what a lot of suicide survivors have said — a point of view Keane conveniently leaves out of his article. For instance, one of the proponents of the suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge is also one of the few survivors of jumping from the bridge due to suicide. He knows that the minute he let go, he didn’t want to die. Had a barrier been in place, that choice would’ve been taken away from him in the first place.
But, using Keane’s twisted logic, we shouldn’t do increased surveillance on bridges either, because people will just find another way to take their own lives. The suicide rate has dropped on the Tobin not because more people have been “caught” while attempting suicide, but because fewer people even try on the bridge, knowing that surveillance is in place.
I believe all of this is just smoke and mirrors, however, to Kean’s real issue with fences on bridges. His real issue appears to be with aesthetics:
A gorgeous vista was unveiled – “a dramatically beautiful sight that just could not be appreciated through the tiny openings of the old chain-link,” editorialized the Kennebec Journal. Still, the Augusta City Council insisted on reinstalling the barrier. The issue became controversial; an anti-fence petition drive was launched. The effort failed, however, and a new $350,000 barrier similar to the old will appear, salving consciences while obscuring the view.
Barrier opponents in Augusta and San Francisco are right. Barriers are ugly and expensive.
As though “gorgeous vistas” (a) can only be viewed from a bridge and (b) are more important than a human life. Barriers — aka, fences — do not need to be ugly (there are dozens of beautifully designed fences on bridges, all it takes is some imagination and an architect), and they also don’t need to be expensive, when weighed against the cost of the human lives saved. An engineer wouldn’t dream of building a bridge without a guardrail to protect the cars from falling off of a bridge, so why would we even have to debate about building a fence on them to protect the people who walk across them?
The Boston Globe carried the original article on Sunday, October 22, 2006, Should Bridges Be Suicideproof?. Psych Central’s original coverage on the Golden Gate Bridge barrier is here. Bridges need fences, plain and simple. Fences save lives. Nobody questions the need or utility of a fence around an airport, a power station, or any other target that presents an inviting opportunity for people to take advantage of. For someone who is suicidal, a bridge is just such target.
Grohol, J. (2006). Should Bridges Be Suicideproof?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 6, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2006/10/22/should-bridges-be-suicideproof/