Posts Tagged ‘Richard Seiden’

Suicide and Coupling

September 27, 2019

Part Five of “Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know” by Malcom Gladwell is titled Coupling. Coupling theory argues that there are certain places or conditions that increase the likelihood of committing suicide. Many think that people who commit suicide are so depressed that they will eventually commit suicide, even if it takes multiple attempts. John Bateson has written a book titled, The Final Leap, which makes the argument, and provides data, to indicate that the effect of the Golden Gate Bridge on some people is to tempt them to commit suicide.

Psychologist Richard Seiden followed up on 515 people who had tried to jump from the bridge between 1937 and 1971, but had been unexpectedly restrained. Just 25 of those 515 persisted in killing themselves some other way. Overwhelmingly, the people who want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at a given moment, want to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge at that given moment.

But when did the municipal authority that runs the bridge finally decide to install a suicide barrier? In 2018, more than eighty years after the bridge opened. John Bateson points out that in the intervening period the bridge authority spent millions of dollars building a traffic barrier to protect cyclists crossing the bridge, even though no cyclist has ever been killed by a motorist on the Golden Gate Bridge. It spent millions building a media to separate north- and south-bound traffic, on the grounds of “public safety.” On the southern end of the bridge, the authority put up an eight-foot cyclone fence to prevent garbage from being thrown onto Fort Baker. A protective net was even reinstalled during the initial construction of the bridge—at enormous cost—to prevent workers from falling their deaths. This net saved nineteen lives, then it was taken down. But it took eighty years to provide the means of preventing suicides from the bridge.

Having a gun in the household is another example of suicide and coupling. If someone is depressed and considering suicide, a gun provides the best means. It’s fast and efficient. Other means of suicide, such as taking pills or slashing one’s wrists often fail. But only rarely do guns fail. It is ironic. Presumably, people keep a gun in their homes for protection, to protect themselves. But it is more likely to result in a mistaken killing or in a suicide. There are many more suicides that murders.

One of HM’s best friends was affected by this coupling. One New Year’s Eve, when HM’s friend was away from home, his son and a friend of his son were playing with a gun in the house. His friend’s son accidentally shot and killed his son. HM’s friend, who was a politician, said justice would be done. What justice could be done? His son was dead and his son’s friend had to live with this killing for the rest of his life. Justice, no. Stupidity, yes.