(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the California Highway Patrol established a Bicycle Patrol Unit to improve security on the Golden Gate Bridge. But bicycle officers frequently encountered despondent people intent on jumping off the bridge, and suicide prevention became a vital part of the job. As part of our First Person series profiling notable people in the Bay Area, we’ll talk with founding bike patrol officer John Carman about his 18 years working to save lives on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Guests:
John Carman, sergeant in the California Highway Patrol

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    How much does it cost to ‘rescue’ someone who has jumped off the bridge, and why do people choose the bridge? Do those who have survived, say they are glad they lived?

    • IEB

      Would you care about the cost, if it were your child, spouse , sibling or best friend? What is a human life worth?Insurance estimates put the value of over $1.5 million. It costs far less, then what we lose, when yet another precious human life is lost to the world.
      There is so much stigma and misinformation involved, regarding mental problems and suicidality. I’m sure that many people would be up in arms, if someone threw a poodle off of the bridge as often as suicidal people jumping.
      But since it’s a person, somehow , there is no compassion for them.
      As one person against a prevention system famously wrote….” Why not just put a diving board, to make it easier” Another wrote, don’t send the coast guard….let them drown and be eaten by the sharks…
      For a sensitive caring person who reads those types of comments, it’s no wonder they can’t deal with living amongst such cruel humans…

      • IEB

        Virtually everyone who survives, says that the minute their hand left the railing, they were sorry they had done it…as though that have suddenly woken up to the reality they have put themselves into. Sadly, very few survive the fall which has been compared to hitting
        Cement at 75mph, with your body. It’s a gruesome death.
        People choose the bridge, because they know the success rate for death, they don’t want to live their lives as vegetables , which is possible with less successful completions, and because no one will have to find their body at home, on the tracks, on the pavement…
        The bridge is basically a loaded gun…. Children have been thrown off the bridge by a parent, and then the parent has jumped…
        If you want to really learn about this more in depth, I recommend the excellent book by John Bateson, “The Final Leap”. Thefinalleap.com. He is the executive director of a 24-hour crisis center, operating in the Bay Area . An excellent book has been written by Kevin Hines,” “Cracked, Not Broken:Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt”. He has become an award winning author, and mental health advocate,
        And jumped at the age of 19, over 10 years ago, while in the grips of the bipolar disorder, with psychotic features. He was the one that Sgt. John Carman refered

        • IEB

          To during the interview when he spoke of a person who said that if only one person had asked him if he was alright, as he paced on the bridge crying, then he wouldn’t jump. Instead, a tourist walked up to him and handed him a camera and asked if he would take their photo. He did, and the jumped over the railing , down to the chord and jumped off.
          Both of these books are filled with all the statistical information that would answer any questions anyone might have about the prevention net, and about what people go through, how many try again ( very, very few)…

  • Jon Gold

    What is the survival rates after a jump? And I’ve never been in favor of a more robust railing system to prevent jumps. Isn’t there always going to be a way to get to a place to jump even with more barriers!?

    • IEB

      Kevin Hines was the 26th survivor, and there have been about two more lucky ones…this is out of an estimated 2000 jumpers, Jon Gold…

  • City Resident

    Of those people you speak with (who have come to the bridge contemplating but not necessarily planning to jump), how often do you place such people on 5150 holds? (I’m a psych nurse who has to help determine people’s level of self endangerment//risk – hence my curiosity)

  • Roger Kat

    An instructor of mine said suicide is a selfish act. Could you comment?

    • IEB

      These are the least selfish people around, and they are in the grips of a kind of temporary insanity. They are also not weak….they have survived many years of crippling thoughts and emotions, yet have survived them all, until that day. Some have used the comparison of having a heart problem for a long time, until the person finally has something happen which brings on a massive heart attack. It’s a disease…a disease, not a character flaw…or a way to garner attention. They feel that they are a burden to others, and are in the type of pain that I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemy…

      • Kathryn Rocha

        well put

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Michael really hit on something when he said, people “are exhausted”. The tunnel vision to escape the pain in the mind is not unlike jumping from a burning building. We may see solvable problems, but the suicide is frantic for escape. It is rational if you felt what the person is grappling with (I am reminded of the doomed folks leaping from the Word Trade Ctr. on 9/11).
    The caller today said she loved the woman over the railing and kept repeating it (AMAZING) – those can be powerful words coming even from a complete stranger – that intrudes on the thought pattern. Depression is so desperate, it takes powerfully heartfelt words to cut throw the roar of the mind.

  • The notions that suicide is a “selfish act” and that suicide deterrents don’t work because people will just go somewhere else to end their life are not supported by the data. If you want more on distinguishing myth from fact, please see: Golden Gate Bridge suicide barrier: Controversy and cost over a life saver. http://slate.me/1gIdpoA

    • econjobrumors

      (removing double post)

    • econjobrumors

      Completely false. There is in fact no scientific evidence that suicide barriers save lives. If you actually read the research papers they explicitly state they could not prove that barriers work.

      • Plenty of studies, including meta analyses that pool data from many studies, report that erecting barriers reduces jumping at other sites (not all jumping) with a net gain in lives saved. The weight of evidence, and consensus among scientists who study suicide, indicates that barriers are an effective means to reduce suicide by jumping. Here’s the latest review: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23505253

        • econjobrumors

          That study shows that barriers reduce suicides by jumping, which is not the same thing as preventing suicides (people can and do substitute other methods). No study has shown that suicide barriers save lives.

          • You’re missing the point. It’s known that some people fixate on specific means to kill themselves. Reducing access to lethal means, whatever they may be, is an effective method of suicide prevention. But there’s no need to take my word for it. Talk to Jane Pirkis, http://pgh.unimelb.edu.au/about/contact/allstaff/pirkis, Mel Blaustein (director of psychiatry at SF’s St. Francis Hospital) or longtime medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Paula Clayton, among numerous other experts on suicide. They know the literature far better than I.

          • econjobrumors

            I’m not missing the point — it’s quite simple. There is no scientific evidence that suicide barriers save lives, no matter what the activists claim. Think I’m wrong? Then cite the evidence.

  • This interview brought me to tears.

    • IEB

      You are a sensitive and loving soul…bless you..!

  • girlwonder

    My nephew committed suicide by jumping from the bridge on January 19th – the guards followed him and from what I understand contacted the authorities to be ready for him. They had his body within 10 minutes…he had only turned 24 on the 12th.

    My nephew suffered severe depression and was diagnosed with schizophrenia…several drugs were tried to no avail…he still heard voices with one, that my sister now tells me, was to jump the bridge.

    Mental illness is now more than the proverbial “six degrees of separation”…we all know someone with something, whether it be your garden variety depression and anxiety to more severe forms to include schizophrenia and drug and alcohol addictions.

    Not sure what the answers are, but the bridge is like candy to someone who wants to end their life.

    • IEB

      Very sorry for your loss, and know that the net is approved and will be up someday…<3

      • girlwonder

        The net would not have stopped my nephew; he would have found another way to do it, possibly with worse consequences. More than the net, mental illness needs to be addressed and no longer kept a dirty secret.

      • IEB

        Galina, please join the GGBridge Survivor group! No one knows the pain and challenges and questions as well as we who have lost a loved one this way…
        Bridgerail.org on the internet, or on FB, BridgeRail Foundation are ways to get in touch…I don’t want to post my phone number or email, for fear of trolls :-/. Had enough of that in the past 6 years, since we lost our beloved daughter and only child Casey, on 1/29/08..
        <3

  • IEB

    I truly wonder what some people have to gain, by spending their time , trying to debunk barriers and suicide prevention information…. Really wonder…
    Believe me, the GGBridge Board of Directors would never have voted YES, if this net wasn’t going to help, and there is proof in many books all the world over, at every major landmark as well…don’t waste people’s time , trying to act so smug. No one owes you any explanation sir and the net will be a reality whether you or other’s like you want to agree… Just go try and impress someone else with whatever you think you know or don’t know…your zeal is suspicious and makes me truly ill.

    • econjobrumors

      LOL, right after the board of directors voted for the net they announced they would not be paying for it. Got a spare $50 million to pay for it?

  • Thomas Devol

    For what it is worth, I’m raising money for putting some signs up. Not so much offering counseling, but rather as tokens and symbols of the care and concern of human kind for anyone on that walk. https://rally.org/goldengatehugs

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