In what seems like a headline from The Onion, Ohio has directed $1.5 million of its stimulus money toward the construction of an anti-suicide barrier on the All American Bridge in Akron Ohio. The bridge, which has seen three suicides in the past two years, will get the new fencing as part of a larger bridge renovation that will contribute 240 jobs to the Akron area. Despite being required on all newly constructed bridges the addition of anti-suicide barriers to existing bridges, including the oft-jumped from Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, is controversial.
Opponents of adding suicide fencing to existing structures argue that the barriers will only shift the problem to another venue or means of suicide. But research suggests otherwise. Mental health experts claim that making it harder to commit suicide increases the chance that people will begin to think rationally and seek help rather than end their life. The numbers back this claim up; in fact, one study found that only 6% of individuals pulled from bridges went on to commit suicide by other means.
The project may be sorely needed if the economy continues its current course. Judging from past drops in unemployment here in the U.S., we will begin to see an increase in suicides as the economy worsens. Economy related suicides aren't just a problem in America. Japan has had to install security cameras at the Aokigahara Forest, a morbidly popular suicide destination, after it saw a 15% increase in the number of suicides over last January.
Despite the fact that I initially thought such barriers were a waste of money, the data clearly backs the importance of anti-suicide bridges. On top of protecting potential suicide victims from themselves, these barriers also negate the need for dangerous intervention by police officers and remove the burden of suicide from witnesses and those who have to recover the bodies. This all begs the question, if a fence can save a life, is there any reason not to install it?
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