Monday, November 16, 2009

Suicidology, Random Shoe-ology

It’s been a depressing day. God is vomiting down rain from above in a perpetual sickening motion, prompting extreme weather warnings and making travel outdoors an exercise in cold, wet, disgusting torture. I have a headache from caffeine withdrawal, Britney Spears specials are playing on MTV (I am watching them because I am a sadist), and the heat in my building has been off for an excruciating twenty-four hour period, most of which I’ve spent huddled under every blanket I own, shivering, sad, and very much alone.

“Curse you, God! Curse you, paparazzi! Curse you, poorly insulated mortal flesh!” …And this is about when I start thinking of suicide.

Not actively, mind you. More in a fantasizing, philosophical sort of way.

Later in the day, I stumbled across this piece in the New Yorker about jumpers off the Golden Gate Bridge. During a darker period, I had watched, online, a documentary on the same subject; if snuff video footage of real jumpers, interspersed with tearful footage of their devastated loved ones, doesn’t make you feel bright and chipper, I just don’t know what will.

The New Yorker article is, in an anecdotal, weaving, and not unpleasant way, making the following statements: suicidal people don’t really want to commit suicide, a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge would save lives, and if you oppose the Suicide Barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge, you are likely a white republican and/or generally terrible human being who looks down on the mentally ill.

Hm. I seem to have issue with all of those statements.

Also, let’s be clear on one thing, as I start my somewhat defensive rebuttal: the Golden Gate Bridge is not alive. It does not speak, it does not enchant, and it does not possess any magical powers. Suicides happen the world over, not just in the San Francisco Bay area, and the Golden Gate bridge is a means, not a cause, of many of those troubled ends.

The lure of certain bridges is a unique and perplexing puzzle. The Golden Gate Bridge ranks number one in the world, probably, for many reasons. It is beautiful, scenic, and lethally tall. Its reputation for luring jumpers has grown exponentially over time, luring tourists from across the country and around the world. And yet every city seems to have its popular jump spots and bridges - suicide barricades erected on the Eiffel tower, Empire State Building, and Sydney Harbour Bridge were a response to their suicidal appeal.

And while those suicide barriers did stop countless would-be jumpers, they saved tourism and human resource dollars far more than they saved human lives. Suicide numbers, per capita, do not decrease with suicide barriers. (They also don’t increase with books that tell people how to euthanize themselves using plastic bags, in case you were wondering.) Suicide continues to happen at the same rate, in a different place, in a different way. Stopping would-be jumpers on the bridge and getting them into counselling and psychiatric care is probably saving more lives than keeping those jumpers at home with knives, belts, rat poison, shoe laces, and countless other would-be methods at every depressed person’s disposal. (Remember my mentioning plastic bags?)

The New Yorker article staunchly opposes this point, noting that those who survive suicide attempts do not usually try again. …True. Most suicides are crisis based. But not having the option of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, or any other single landmark, does not constitute surviving a suicide attempt, and it isn’t likely to resolve a suicidal crisis. Plus, I already told you, the total numbers of suicides don’t actually change, at all, with suicide barriers.

The only thing that has been shown to reduce the total number of suicides is to stop the reporting of suicides (making the entire New Yorker article a little counter-productive). News media rarely report on those who jump off bridges or in front of trains, and if you’ve been held up for hours while police coax a jumper off of the Lion’s Gate Bridge, the only thing you’ll hear is that it’s a “police incident.”

I understand the reasoning for this (since it actually does save lives), but this thin veil of secrecy bothers me for a few reasons (not the least of which is the fact that psychiatric emergencies are seen to almost exclusively by regular, under-trained police). After having run over a man on a sky-train, I scanned the internet frantically, looking for news, cathartic release, an explanation - and none came. I never learned if he fell, or jumped, or lived, because the story was never reported. For those who witness a jumper or are held up in traffic due to a ‘police incident’, it might be nice to have some closure, if only in the form of a few vague details. Then again, that’s asking for transparency from the police, and, well, I’ve certainly become jaded and bitter.

Speaking of which, sort of, the shores of Southern BC have long been awash with random, disembodied feet. Police and news media have told the public not to panic, but offered absolutely no explanation as to why all these creepy feet are ‘naturally’ washing up on shore. A worthy explanation did come on the CBC website in an article reporting that two feet belonged to the same chronically depressed and ‘missing’ Vancouver man…though not within the actual article, which stated the same tirade of ‘perfectly natural’ and ‘well, we have our reasons, and we just don’t feel like sharing with you at the present time,’ et cetera. A commenter, Edmond Burk, shed some light:

I'm almost certain these shoes are the remains of jumpers from the Pattullo Bridge.

The swift currents of the Fraser wash their remains down river and sometimes right across the Strait of Georgia. It's a fact that the Coast Guard are often called out for jumpers at the Pattullo but never immediately find the remains.

More people jump from there than the public know about.

Why is it so popular to do it from there? For one thing it's close to the drug trading dens of North Surrey, not to mention New Westminster. Do you think there's a link between taking hard drugs and taking one's life? Gee, I don't know.

Until the moronic people who habitually make up excuses for the continuation of hard core drug use in this province wake up to themselves we're only going to be dealing with, and paying for, the fallout such as investigating these mystery shoes.

And…point taken, opinionated Edmond Burke. Social marginalization, depression, and poverty relate to both drug use AND suicide. I would snark at you more, but I'm ever so cold, so I'm saving some of this fury in order to stave off hypothermia for another few hours.

Bottom line: shoes are from jumpers, jumpers are often from the Golden Gate Bridge, and writers from the New Yorker are somewhat wrong.

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