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The suicide barrier in all of us

POSTED: July 31, 2014 4:53 p.m.
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Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi

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Since the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, it has been an attraction for those wanting to commit suicide. Only 2 percent survive the jump. It is 220 feet down and when jumpers hit, they still have to contend with the cold, extremely swift water.

With only a four-foot barrier to get over, the Golden Gate Bridge stands at the entrance to the Pacific like a loaded gun for those who are severely depressed and in pain.

Since opening day some 77 years ago, roughly 1,200 people have dropped to their deaths from this otherwise beautiful landmark. The exact numbers can’t be known because so often a body is not found.

In 2013, nearly 50 people — or one per week — died jumping from the bridge. The San Francisco media deliberately do not publicize these deaths so as to deter copycats.

Much of this may be changing soon, thank God. The board of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District passed a motion last month to construct a steel-cable safety net that will run along the length of the bridge on both sides. The project will take three years and will cost about $76 million.

There has been some debate in the City by the Bay on this netting, which has been termed a “suicide barrier.” What I found interesting in following these spirited conversations are the results of a study done by Richard Seiden, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley.

Seiden interviewed 515 people who had been stopped from jumping by California Highway Patrol officers. He found that after their plan to commit suicide had been deterred, 90 percent never attempted to kill themselves again! Ninety percent!

How important it is for us to be vigilant of the mental states of those in our lives. We must work to get beyond the automatic “How ya doin’?” and “Fine” to a point where our friends and family know we really want an answer, that we really care.

When someone is not looking like themselves, avoiding others, talking about suicide (even in jest), giving away items, inconsolable about something in their life or appearing resigned to some difficult fate, take time to dip deeply into their mental state. And if you need to ask, “You’re not thinking about hurting yourself, are you?” then ask it and act on the answer.

Research now tells us that if you can just stop them then, you may have saved them not only for a few more days or weeks, but perhaps so they can go on to live a good, long life.

As Effingham County resident and suicide prevention instructor Bootsie Lindsey says, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

If you can be vigilant and deter a person thinking about suicide long enough to get them help, you may serve as their lifeboat, saving them from the wrong permanent solution. Then, perhaps you can introduce them to a permanent savior.

The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.

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