What Are Suicide Barriers?
Suicide barriers are much more common than you might think, but what are they? Often times, we pass these barriers not even realizing or questioning their purpose.
Suicide barriers adorn buildings, parking structures, bridges, freeway overpasses, iconic landmarks, and other tall structures all over the world. Barriers have several different forms, including metal nets, or fences and walls made out of glass, concrete, or metal, which often curve inwards at the top to deter people from climbing over them. These types of barriers can be seen on incredibly popular and iconic destinations all over the world, such as the Empire State Building in New York City.
A common concern when installing barriers is if it will detract from the image or scenic view from a sight. Under-hanging metal nets and glass barriers are solutions to help prevent suicide, while allowing for greater transparency and less obstruction of scenic views.
Barbara Moser MD, chair of Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, said that now, many sites in European countries include barriers from the very beginning of the construction process:
“They include barriers from the get-go,” Moser Said. “It isn’t a question whether or not to have them installed.”
Contrastingly, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, located in San Francisco, is finally set to have to have barriers installed. According to the Bridge Rail Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, a stainless steel net will be installed the full length of the Golden Gate Bridge, hanging 20 feet below the railings on both sides of the bridge, and extending 20 feet outwards from the bridge, over the water.
The Bridge Rail Foundation’s Net Fact Sheet states: “The net will not sag or ensnare jumpers. Rather, a 20 – foot fall most likely will injure anyone who jumps into the net. Additionally, the weave of the net will make climbing out of it difficult.”
The Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District, stated in an April 13, 2017 press release that in mid-2018, the installation of the net will begin, with an expected completion date in 2021. Funding for the project came from multiple sources, with the total cost reaching $211 million.
The press release included words from California Senator Dianne Feinstein, in which she said: “This net is a net whose time has really come. 39 people died last year (2016) alone. What you’re doing here today, what the Bridge is doing, what the taxpayers are doing, will hopefully turn that number to zero.”
It is often believed that those who are intent on killing themselves will resort to any means possible to do so; however, the Harvard School of Public Health found that nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.
“The physical intervention of a barrier, an interruption, will stop them and make them think,” said Kathryn Posthuma-Bain, a local Milwaukee mental health professional and advocate, who started a petition to have suicide barriers installed on Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge in 2016.
“Suicide is impulsive, and a plan is usually created with very short notice,” Posthuma-Bain said. “They are in a state of despair and not logical. If their attempt is interrupted, the rate of recurrence lessens.”
The Bridge Rail Foundation states that to date, there have been almost 1,700 confirmed suicide deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge, making it the top suicide site in the world.
According to the Bridge Rail Foundation, every two-and-a-half days, on average, someone goes to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumps, or either tries to. Annually in Milwaukee, at least one known suicidal death occurs on the Hoan Bridge, according Posthuma-Bain. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that restricting access to lethal means, such as erecting barriers on bridges, is one of the most effective ways to prevent suicide.
Dr. Bob Dubois, a volunteer and leader with Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, and a psychology professor for Waukesha County Technical College, specializes in QPR training. Standing for question, persuade, and refer, QPR training aims to reduce suicidal behaviors and save lives by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training.
“Your initial reaction is to go with your gut: that suicide is a rare event, and other things should get more of our attention, like homicide or drug overdoses,” DuBois said. “Why do we wait until a person is at the point that they are ready to die to do something?”
To sign Posthuma-Bain’s petition for adding suicide barriers on the Hoan Bridge, click here.