There are several reasons why the safety net on the Golden Gate Bridge will stop the jumping there and save lives. These are related both to the design of the net, the nature of suicide at the Bridge, and the nature of suicide in general.
Critics of the net—and most any other proposal—raise a number of objections. At the core of this criticism is a belief that once someone decides to commit suicide, they cannot be stopped. Surely, if that were the case, someone who attempts suicide once and survives would simply try again. The truth is, such persons are at high risk for suicide and some die in follow-up attempts. Yet nationally, 90 percent of all people who survive a first suicide attempt do not subsequently die by suicide.
Given time and treatment, a person in a suicidal state can get past the impulse to die, and get on with life. And that’s exactly what has happened with people who survived an attempt at the Gate. Cornelia Van Ireland, the first to jump from the Bridge and survive (in 1940), went on to live out her life. Ken Baldwin jumped in the early ‘80’s and has had a long career as a schoolteacher since. Kevin Hines, whose story is detailed here, recovered from his injuries, got married and is an active mental health advocate. Like the national data, about 90 percent of people who survive a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge do not later die by suicide. And a study of people stopped during a Bridge suicide attempt found that 94 percent were still alive—for an average of 26 years—or had died of natural causes.
People in a suicidal state can get past it, get the help they need and survive. And the chance of that survival has a great deal to do with ease of access to lethal means. Sometimes the simplest changes—like packaging drugs in single dose containers rather than bulk packs—can decrease suicides. Proper use of gun-locks has reduced suicides in gun-owning households. Locking up poisonous pesticides cuts down suicides. The list goes on.
The bridge experience, as reported in Maine, Washington D.C., Canada, the U.K., Australia and elsewhere is the same. Restrict easy access and lives are saved. In none of these examples is there any evidence of people simply using another bridge once a known suicide bridge has a proper railing or net. In the D.C. example, the next nearest bridge is only blocks away.
The bottom line is really pretty simple—every example of restricting easy access to lethal means is associated with saving lives.
This leaves only questions about the Golden Gate Bridge proposal itself—will the net actually work? Certainly, the international experience tells us yes. The Swiss system, on which the Golden Gate Bridge proposal is based, has stopped suicide jumps so effectively that no one has even tried the system. The Golden Gate Bridge net— like the system in Bern—will hang some 20 feet below the pedestrian deck. A jumper would fall two stories before hitting the net, likely causing some serious injury. And the natural sag of the net—with an injured individual in it— will make climbing out very difficult. In addition, the plan includes a rescue service to pull any injured individual from the net. The available evidence tells us the net will work.