Sunday, February 25, 2024

Anti-Suicide Net Trudges Forward

Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

A man jumped from the San Diego-Coronado Bridge on Saturday, the latest death on a bridge ranked second in the nation for number of suicides. Lawmakers and grassroots activists hope to change that.

A plan to install vertical netting on the bridge to prevent jumpers is underway, a solution chosen after a yearlong feasibility study conducted by Caltrans that weighed 11 total options, including foldable fencing and license plate readers.

The California Transportation Commission is expected to approve the plan this week, and after that, Caltrans will request an allocation of funds for the project in January, Coronado City Councilmember Bill Sandke said.

The project, which also includes minor updates to the bridge’s toll plaza, carries an estimated cost of $127,000,000, with construction beginning in 2026-27, according to CTC documents.

In the meantime, people are still dying, said activist Wayne Strickland, a 32-year veteran of the Coronado Fire Department and the founder of the grassroots movement, Coronado San Diego Bridge Collaborative For Suicide Prevention, to address suicide on the bridge.

“As a firefighter, you see a lot of death,” Strickland said, noting that suicide victims are among those that still haunt him. “I tried to do CPR on a few of them, but I could never save anyone. Their bodies were so mangled and contorted. And this is totally preventable.”

The bridge’s death-by-suicide toll tallies more than 450 since its construction in 1969. Despite grassroots efforts to remediate this issue, funding falls at the mercy of bureaucracy.

“The unfortunate fact,” Councilmember Sandke said, “is that the government doesn’t have piles of money set aside to save lives on a bridge, but it does have money to help with the operation of its transportation systems.”

The number of lives lost on the bridge is tragic, Sandke said, and by reframing it to a traffic issue, the project became a feasible recipient of funding. Suicides on the bridge result in abandoned cars and congestion.

“There are very personal sides to it,” Sandke said. “The other side is that the bridge is a critical part of our transportation system. Keeping the bridge operationally functioning in a safe, efficient manner is Caltrans’ job.”

“That said,” Sandke said, “the people at Caltrans are eager to get this done, and for the right reasons. There’s a fundamental disappointment in how long this has taken within the community, but I urge people to have patience.”

Past mitigation efforts

The proposed net is not the first attempt at dissuading people from jumping. In 2019, four-inch spikes were installed along the edge of the bridge, but they have not prevented the problem. In fact, Strickland said, they may exacerbate it.

“Before the spikes, people would stand on the bridge, right next to the railing, thinking about it,” Stickland said. “They’d even stand on top of the gate rail, giving more time for people to be rescued. Because of the spikes, instead of thinking, people sometimes jump immediately.”

A Harvard University study found that 9 out of 10 survivors of suicide attempts do not ultimately die by suicide. Interventions matter, and making suicide from atop the 200-foot Coronado Bridge so easy, Stickland argued, robs those in struggle from the chance to reconsider.

California’s other suicide bridge

While the Coronado Bridge ranks second, California is also home to the nation’s top suicide bridge: San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, with more than 1,800 recorded jumps, tops that list, with around 30 annual deaths compared to the Coronado Bridge’s average of 13, according to records from the county medical examiner’s office.

Construction of anti-suicide nets began on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2018, with its projected completion set for next year. However, a lawsuit filed by contractors in November argues that the project will cost up to double its original projection, putting the cost closer to $400 million, potentially delaying completion.

When that project is completed, however, the Coronado Bride will presumably assume the top slot for bridge suicides nationwide, at least without mitigation.

Mental health and the holidays

Timing for this next step in suicide deterrents aligns with the holiday season, a fact that is not remiss on leaders, grassroots and otherwise. It’s a myth that suicide attempts peak during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean people don’t struggle.

“I have typically seen an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression during this time of year because of the spotlight on who we will or will not be with during the holidays,” said Cory Stege, licensed therapist and owner of CrownTown Counseling. “Those of us who feel isolated going into the season often feel even more disconnected from others, resulting in an increase in depression and anxiety.”

Stege recommends that people set realistic expectations for this time of year, prioritize self-care, and maintain perspective by focusing on being present rather than ruminating on past woes or future worries.

“Focus on your locus of control,” she said. “That means identifying those things in your life that you have the ability to do something about, and accepting those things you have no control over.”

And, for those who are struggling, Stege said, help doesn’t require grand gestures.

“We often struggle with knowing what to say to make someone feel better,” she said, “but the simple act of listening and validating someone’s experience can go a long way.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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