Golden Gate Suicide Record

According to The Independent (Golden Gate suicides: Deaths from San Francisco’s famous bridge ‘reached all-time high’ in 2013):

The number of people jumping to their deaths from San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge reached an all-time high in 2013, according to a safety watchdog group.

Public suicide rates at the California landmark are among the highest in the world, and campaigners have demanded that something be done after 46 people killed themselves there last year alone.

As well as those deaths, police officers and members of the public intervened to save would-be jumpers on 118 other occasions.

So why the record?  The watchdog group reporting the statistics, the Bridge Rail Foundation, attributes it to local authorities failing to install nets under the bridge. The argument for suicide preventing nets goes back at least to 1977. The most notorious advocate, then, was Jim Jones of the People’s Temple cult. An essay by Ann Garrison reports:

Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple, delivered one of the most momentous bridge soliloquies on Memorial Day, 1977, when he and a group of his followers joined 400 anti-suicide activists.

But three years later, Jim Jones and his followers found another way to commit suicide in the jungles of Guyana: poisoned Kool Aid. The Golden Gate Bridge is certainly not the only way.

Garrison points out that the Golden Gate suicides are only a small part of the San Francisco total. In fact, a San Francisco newspaper once nicknamed its hometown “Suicide City.” She wrote:

Though bridge suicides have accounted for only a few percent of San Francisco suicides, the city at the same time became known as the country's suicide capital, year after year reporting a higher rate of self-murder than any other U.S. city. The San Francisco Bay Guardian (May 17, 1996) called its home suicide city.

There are several possibilities here. One is that the high Golden Gate Bridge suicide rate is an economic indicator of the San Francisco economy. People without jobs sometimes lose their self-worth.

Another is that the high bridge suicide rate reflects the large numbers of Lesbian Gay and Bisexual (LGB) people in the San Francisco area. A study by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that LGB youth are much more likely to attempt suicide than the rest of the population:

LGB youth as a group experience more suicidal behavior than other youth. A variety of studies indicate that LGB youth are nearly one and a half to three times more likely to have reported suicidal ideation than non-LGB youth. Research from several sources also revealed that LGB youth are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide. These studies do not include transgender youth.

LGB people have long felt welcome in San Francisco, due to the city’s longstanding tolerance for individual lifestyle choices. Garrison writes:

Gay mecca, heart of the hippie revolution, bastion of political radicalism, home to left, right, center, and cyber libertarians, this is a city where morning and evening traffic reporters routinely warn of demonstrators slowing cars to assert their rights or the rights of others.

Yet another possibility is that the suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge are purely related to the bridge itself. If so, it is about time that Bay Area authorities follow Jim Jones’ 1975 advice in order to prevent others from following Jim Jones’ 1978 advice.