Hassett: Two ways to stop suicide

BY NICK HASSETT | MARCH 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s one of those stories that gives you pause with just the headline: Suicides Mounting, Golden Gate Looks To Add A Safety Net.

The New York Times article, published last week, details a renewed effort to add a stainless steel “suicide barrier,” a net 20 feet below the sidewalk on the Golden Gate bridge.

Following the year with the most suicides on record for the bridge — in 2013, 46 people jumped to their deaths — concerns about leaving the Golden Gate’s stark beauty intact have fallen by the wayside in favor of saving lives.

What’s more tragic is that the Golden Gate is an outlier. The Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and even private sector employers such as Apple’s Chinese manufacturer Foxconn have all added nets to their towering structures. Without this protection, the Golden Gate Bridge is among the most popular suicide locations in the world.

Beyond aesthetics, there really is no argument against these suicide barriers. Experts claim the urge to commit suicide is often a transient one, where logic and the will to live are momentarily subjugated by the call of the void. For the estimated 1,600 people who have committed suicide from the Golden Gate, jumping off can be a quick way to end the pain.

That pain isn’t always something that can be seen on the surface. Over the spring break, I received word via Facebook that one of my high-school classmates had passed away. His profile page was filled with memorials: “You could light up a room with your smile, and I’m gonna miss you.” “I just saw you a few days ago, and you were so full of life like you always were.”

Suicide is something we feel we can understand in the abstract, that despite how horrible it is, we at least feel we know who it happens to and why. But when it happens to someone that was so positively boisterous, so goofy and happy-go-lucky that you can’t even imagine feeling down in his presence … it’s hard to articulate that shock.

That shock made me realize that this isn’t a problem that can be fixed with nets, though they undoubtedly will save lives. It isn’t a problem that can be fixed through medication, which often substitutes feelings of depression with no feeling at all. In a nation in which suicides account for more deaths annually than traffic fatalities, this is a crisis that can no longer be pushed aside.

Modern medicine has brought the assurance that everything is preventable, that sickness can be warded off with vaccinations and antibiotics, and that assertion is mostly true. Denizens of the First World no longer have to worry about dying young from disease. But mental-health care has not kept pace.

Like a broken record, the topic is brought up hand in hand with gun control anytime a mass shooting takes place, and seemingly only when a mass shooting takes place. Could Sandy Hook have been prevented through intervention? Could anyone have seen this coming? There’s always a past tense in these questions, the horse already out of the barn. It’s like asking if the barn door could have been locked. Will one more heartfelt query from a sad-eyed newscaster result in systematic change?

I’m sick of these questions. I’m sick of a world that takes a young man in the prime of his life, who brought so much light to those around him. And I’m sick of a world where suicide nets are a necessity on the Golden Gate Bridge.

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