“The most pleasant feeling I’ve ever had,” a suicide survivor calls what he thought would be the last few moments of his life. “There is a kind of form to it..a certain grace and beauty,” says another about jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Total relief,” says another – reffering to that moment before death when you thought there was no more worries to ever be. These were three responses Dr. David Rosen got after interviewing six suicide survivors that lived the 250 foot drop off of one of the world’s largest suspension bridges in the world.
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most well known symbols of the United States, after the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and arguably a few others. When constructed in 1937, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. It connected Marin County to San Francisco, the largest city in the United States that had no bridge to the mainland, through the turbulent tides and dense fog that made such a feat near impossible to build. Since then, the bridge has been the main tourist attraction of California, and one of the most popular in the country.
But it is also known for a darker, more sinister reason. The Golden Gate Bridge is infamous for being the second most common suicide site in the world, with an official count of over 1,200 since its creation seventy six years ago. Of course that number is widely inaccurate, many bodies wash into the Pacific and are never found, many jumps were never witnessed, and many jumps are faked (however that works!). IN recent years the City of San Francisco has placed cameras to number the suicides and help with prevention; it turns out that on average there is one death every two weeks. Of course this number has been contested, and an independent initiative decided to film suicides too, calculating 17 suicides every three months.
But the most curious thing is why people choose this particular bridge, and why people choose to walk right off of it. Dr. Rosen sets off to find answers by asking survivors, and their answers are extraordinary.
Suicide is a liberation, for some. In the three seconds between the bridge and the water, it is sheer ecstasy. “Like a bird flying,” one survivor recollects, as (s)he plummeted toward what she thought would be death. Could there be no greater joy than to have no worries, no regrets, no future aspirations? Could there be no greater happiness then to lose attachment to desire, even for just three seconds. Indeed, the Buddha would agree.
Suicide, perhaps, is a statement to the world. The Golden Gate Bridge, traversed by 110,000 a day, is the perfect act of publicity, a final, irreversible act that teases the human dare. Another survivor, a teenager, said he jumped for the “fun”. Conversely, in the dead of night, at a bridge whose waters are so violent, when no one is around, it can be a suicide no one may ever know. Many bodies are never recovered, especially in the time this bridge was created. It can be a silent statement to the world, or a bold one, depending upon the beholder.
But this is an idealized version of such an act. It is an act of spontaneous decision making, hardly pre meditated. 95% of thwarted suicides off the bridge (by people who convinced the suicidal to not jump) do not jump again, or not for a time (few still do so). Perhaps the elegance of the fall that is also all too practical (only 1% survive) is performed by the combination of a number of emotions: one being depression, another, perhaps, being spontaneous.
Had the majority of those who decided against dropping from this bridge last minute tried again, we could say there were serious concerns with the quality of their lives and mental health. This is not too say there are not serious problems with their stability since this is not the case, but that the argument that we should not stop suicidals falls to its feet. Suicide is a decision based off of rash decision making, almost always, off of the sheer dare of the risk involved in transgressing the bounds. The argument that many fall prey too, that suicide is a person’s right we should not attempt to reason against fails in that the reasoning of a suicidal is often all too irrational.
Whatever the case may be, the powerful relief one must feel a second before death must be incredible. Yet our glamorizing of it does no good. The romance relationship the media has with suicide, that suicidals have with suicide is worrying, and we must be cautious. Indeed the relief of death must be extraordinary, but it is coming for all of us anyway: there is no need to rush.