Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Suicide (Part II)

Sunday I posted the first part of this series on suicide talking about a client I recently had who had suicidal ideation. Today I am posting the second part to this series, which was my main inspiration behind writing this series in the first place. The material used to write this entry comes from the ABC News 20/20 program I accidentally came across when flipping channels Friday night. A portion of that program was covering a controversial documentary which will be released to limited cities around the country on this Friday. The film is entitled The Bridge and it is the project of a man by the name of Eric Steel. Not only is the material with which the film is centered around being noted as controversial, but so is the means by which Steel went about getting the material to put the film together. Let me explain…

The Bridge is a 90-plus minute documentary centered about the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. For those not too familiar with this bridge, it was opened in 1937, and it is over a mile long spanning over the San Francisco Bay. The roadway on the bridge skies some 220 feet above the surface of the water below. Quite a fall if you were to slip off, but unfortunately, more than 1,200 individuals have experienced that 4-second fall since the bridge opened. This number represents the number of individuals who have done more than “slip” off the edge—in their minds it was a jump.

The Golden Gate Bridge has been a popular means for suicidal individuals completing their plan for ending their lives. As mentioned, more than 1,200 have taken advantage of the near-guaranteed death. With the 220 foot fall taking a mere 4-seconds, the body is calculated at hitting the surface of the water below at going approximately 75-miles per hour. At speeds like that, death is only a splash away. So, as a glorious monument that tourists by the thousands visit on a regular basis, it also has it’s dark hidden secret—or at least hidden until Steel decided to shed some light on the matter…

The Bridge was Steel’s project inspired by his drive to get a better understanding of “the human spirit in crisis.” So, after years of planning, he and his crew set up cameras in January 2004 at the park located near the bridge. They kept their cameras rolling for 365 days, gathering the “activity” that took place on the bridge for the full year of 2004. When they had shut off their cameras, they had footage of 24 suicides.

He had footage of individuals who paced up and down the bridge for more than 30-minutes before making the move to end their life.

He had footage of individuals who sat on the railing for minutes before making the final gesture over.

He had footage of individuals who walked up to the edge and simply climbed over immediately like there was nothing left to cross their mind.

He even got footage of a man up on the bridge taken photographs when a lady climbed over the railing in front of him and before she could step off the ledge, the photographer grabbed her and pulled her back over and sat on her until authorities could arrive. A life saved, for the moment at least. The camera crew caught the same woman coming back to the bridge multiple times after then. It was then that the crew would make the call to the bridge authorities their selves.

This was one of the rules Steel’s crew had, and that was if they noted an individual who seemed suspicious in the sense that they believed the person might be there to commit suicide, they would call the bridge authorities immediately. Unfortunately, some people’s last moment behaviors are not predictable.

So, after recording the actual footage of the deaths, Steel’s next step was to talk to the families who were left behind after the suicides. He recorded interviews with these individuals questioning them about the behaviors of their loved ones leading up to the suicide, as well as asking about their feelings toward the act that is noted as selfish.

So Steel gathered his footage—individuals taking their own lives and family and friends reactions to the behaviors.

Many have argued that it is unethical and wrong to video people taking their own lives—and even worse to make it into a documentary for others to witness. The talk about this film has already begun, but the controversy only begins there…

As previously mentioned, Steel took methods for gaining the footage in what is being viewed as controversial as well. First, when Steel got the permit to set up his crew to tape the bridge in the park, he was not clear about why he wanted to film the bridge. There was no mention to the filming purpose being to shoot a documentary about suicides committing at the mercy of the Bay below. If that did not raise enough questions from his critics, his choice to interview the friends and families left behind without mentioning to them that he had the suicides recorded inflamed the questioning.

To the questioning Steel has consistently responded with his defense that he did not want word to get out during the filming of the project about WHAT the project was about in fear that it would give others an encouragement to go ahead with their suicidal plans in efforts to be a part of the film.

So, does what will the country make of this documentary film? Will the suicide rate at The Golden Gate Bridge increase? Will it raise awareness to friends and families about individuals at risk of suicide and possibly help professionals and others in better assessing for at-risk suicidal clients; therefore, causing the suicide rate to decline? Will suicide prevention increase? Will America take a closer look at the issue of suicide and talk surrounding the subject will become less taboo?

Who knows what will happen, but one San Francisco native and Golden Gate Bridge jumper and SURVIVOR supports the film and is featured among the interview footage…

Kevin Hines, now 25 years old, is one of the FEW who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and has lived to tell his story. Suffering from a depressive state due to his bipolar disorder, Kevin made the decision to jump back in September of the year 2000. He remembers backing away from the railing and running and jumping and then in the beginning of the 4-second fall thinking to himself, I don’t want to die. In the remaining time he immediately threw his head back, hoping to not hit the water head first and remained conscious after hitting the water. Though suffered two shattered vertebrae as a result of the impact, without the aid of his legs, Kevin was able to somehow swim up toward the light with just his arms. Six years later, Kevin reports he is living a stable live while taking his bipolar medications and makes a career with his father working on suicide prevention in the San Francisco area.

So who knows? Who knows what cities and places will be willing to show this documentary. Who knows how many people will pay to see it. Who knows how it will affect human behavior in San Francisco, as well as around the country…

But one thing that the 20/20 program ended the segment with is for sure—the lobbying that has been going on for YEARS to get the railing on the bridge raised to prevent suicidal jumpers, has apparently begun to pay off. Information was shared that a contract company has already been hired and is in the progress of drawing up blueprints and releasing a monetary figure to the Bridge authorities soon.

Could this film have been the straw that broke the camel’s back? Might preventive measures be taken now to save lives above the quiet and yet desperation-filled Bay?

Only time will tell…


So what do you think? Was Steel’s idea for a documentary going too far? Should individuals taking their own lives be recorded and played for others to see? Are the educational and hopeful-repercussions of this film worth the controversial stand? Is suicide a taboo topic that should remain that way?

I won’t share much of my thoughts at this point in time, but I will say this…

I already looked and the film is not schedule to be in the Dallas area anytime soon (if ever) as far as my knowledge. If it was, I would already have marked my calendar.

**You can check out more online coverage of this film, Steel, and the controversy surrounding it at this or this website.

1 comment:

Richard Beck said...

Wow! I had not heard about this film. I'd like to go but I doubt it will come to Abilene! If it hits the DFW area holler at me.

Thanks for the heads up about the release.