I didn't know when we moved to Marin eight years ago that I was the mother of a child who fits the profile of those especially vulnerable to the deadly lure of the Golden Gate Bridge. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age five, my daughter often fixates on wanting to die when she's unstable. It was chilling to hear her sob – when she was in kindergarten — that she didn't want to be on this planet anymore. Last fall, when she was 11, I could barely hide my fear when she confided that she'd not only been having thoughts about killing herself, she'd thought of ways to do it. They didn't include jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. And thankfully, they weren't realistic.
Still, when I drive across the bridge, steely blue ocean churning beneath, I sometimes can't help thinking the unthinkable. My grip on the steering wheel tightens as I remember the morning I walked into my daughter's preschool to find a somber group of teachers and parents whispering in front of the storage cubbies. They were talking about a seemingly happy local high school student who'd peddled his bike to the bridge and plunged to his death. I ached for him and his parents. I couldn't imagine how they could go on with their lives after he ended his.
If the controversial suicide barrier first proposed in the 70s had been in place then, his life and many others might have been saved. Those lucky enough to survive a jump rarely attempt to kill themselves again. But suicides from the bridge – there have been 1,600 confirmed since it opened in 1937 -have been on the rise. A record 46 people leapt to their deaths last year. And their ages are getting younger.
In a few years, I'll have far less control over my daughter than I do today. I worry about what could happen if I'm not around to assure her that an intense spell of despair will pass. If there is even a remote chance that she'd consider jumping from the bridge, I want that net there to catch her.
With a Perspective, I'm Dorothy O'Donnell.