Another Approach to Suicide Prevention

It’s no secret that I am a fan of suicide barriers on bridges that have become “suicide magnets.” I believe that there is decent evidence to suggest that these fences reduce suicide on the treated bridge without necessarily increasing suicide on nearby structures or by other means. This speaks to the impulsive nature of the act, at least in its final stages, as well as the non-transferrable meaning and significance imbued in these suicide magnets. I also happen to think that, well-designed, these barriers can be beautiful. But they are costly especially when added after-the-fact, and not without political controversy.

Recent media coverage points to a different kind of approach to suicide prevention on the Yangtze River Bridge in Nanjing, China. By reports, at least 1 person a week jumps to their death from this structure. I am not sure the Chinese government has the resources or will to erect a proper barrier: the response to a similar problem in Guangzhou was to smear the existing railings with butter to discourage people from climbing over.

But the Yangtze River bridge has Chen Sah. Since 2003, Mr. Chen has been patrolling the bridge, identifying and – by his own records – saving at least 174 people from jumping over the side. He is apparently untrained in either counseling or law enforcement; he does this on his off-hours, in addition to his day job.

It is a compelling story, if not the optimal solution. Certainly, not something that one could generalize or export to other locations. But, in a nation that sees 200,000 suicide deaths annually, it is refreshing to know that someone, somewhere is taking a stand, one life at a time.

Listen to a report on This American Life.

Link to Mr. Chen’s personal blog (in Chinese) here.