The number of people younger than 25 who are coming to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide has increased five-fold in the past 14 years, and Bridge District officials are announcing a plan to reach them.
The district is partnering with Crisis Text Line, a national nonprofit that provides free, 24/7 texting to people in crisis.
"It’s the medium people know and trust," Crisis Text Line Bay Area Director Libby Craig said. "It’s the way we’re communicating with our friends, our family, so we why not communicate with a crisis counselor as well."
Crisis Text Line and the Golden Gate Bridge Patrol will work together to dispatch emergency services and bring those intending suicide to safety, district officials said. Those in crisis who need help can text GGB to 741741.
"We know people are already at the bridge in crisis with their phones out, ready to text," Craig said. "In fact, prior to this partnership, Crisis Text Line had already had 94 conversations in which people mention the Golden Gate Bridge."
Crisis Text Line supports 50,000 texters a month — 80 percent of them under 25 years old, Craig said.
Trained crisis counselors help texters move from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening, collaborative problem solving and suggesting referrals, Craig said.
"When a person is at imminent risk of suicide and we don't think they can stay safe, our team works with local dispatch centers to send emergency services to that person," Craig said.
Manuel Gamboa always carries a picture of his son, Kyle, who died nearly three years ago when he jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge.
"There was no sign," he said. "He wasn't mentally ill, he wasn't depressed that we know of."
Gamboa's voice broke Friday while he talked about the 18-year-old who should have had a full life.
"There was a suicide note," he said. "I haven't read it at all."
To help others like Kyle, the new text line will supplement the work of the existing bridge patrols and phone hotlines, Bridge District spokeswoman Priya Clemens said. Ironworkers are also installing new Crisis Text Line signs, Clemens said.
"The overall suicide rate is going up in our country and it's very problematic and troubling," said Dennis Mulligan from the Golden Gate Bridge District.
Paul Muller with the Bridge Rail Foundation, however, believes texting may not be a real option for someone seriously intending to commit suicide. The focus should be on a proposed suicide barrier.
"We need to see that there is a physical barrier," he said. "We’re not going to see these deaths stop until we have a barrier installed."
Toward that end, district officials are proceeding with a $76 million suicide prevention project that includes a steel net that extends 20 feet below the roadway and 20 feet outward.