by Dorothy Paugh
After at least 1,600 lives lost over its 4-foot low railings, the Golden Gate Bridge governing board has approved a net to catch/deter jumpers. Public demonstrations by those who had lost loved ones to suicide and personal experiences by board members have dissipated decades of opposition. Their pain on display touched a chord.
Families brought pictures of lost loved ones to City Hall and Bridge board meetings. The decades-thick fog was lifted by their passionate determination to save others combined with overwhelming scientific evidence that such obstacles/delays often save lives not just for the moment, but over the long haul. Ninety percent of those who were restrained from jumping off this bridge did not go on to die by suicide.
The science is clear that making it even a little harder--introducing any obstacle or delay such as nets, trigger locks, packaging dangerous pills in smaller quantities—these approaches are often effective because the impulse to end one’s life can be fleeting. But before these facts could change minds, survivors appealed for a change of heart.
Suicide prevention is not an all or none issue. Many suicides are preventable, many are not. The problem is no one, not even the most educated, experienced mental health professional or closest person to an individual knows how to predict with certainty who can be saved and who cannot. In the face of uncertainty, I'd rather err to the side of assuming someone can be saved. This is not to place the ultimate responsibility on anyone or anything besides the individual or add to the guilt many survivors feel.
Eliminating the urge is very complex, perhaps a mystery. Many survivors struggle for years with the obvious mental illness of a loved one, and resources to cope need much improvement. Making the act physically harder to carry out is not the whole answer, but it is one piece that we can get our minds, hearts and arms around going forward.
A Navy veteran, Dorothy Paugh lives with her husband in the Washington, DC area and works for the federal government. As a young girl, she lost her father to suicide. In 2012, her middle son followed in his footsteps. Her story and plea for safe gun storage appeared on CNN.com and can be read here.