The bridge was built in 1937 and it is considered one of the most majestic sights in the modern world. But, it’s also one of the world’s leading suicide magnets. In the 81 years since its opening, the bridge has seen over 1,600 suicides; approximately twenty a year.
In his twenty-odd years on the police force, Sgt Kevin Biggs managed to talk hundreds of would-be jumpers out of their plans. He only lost two and that’s a real accomplishment, because once someone gets onto the bridge’s outer ledge, police cannot manoeuvre fast enough to physically stop a suicide. Either the police talk them out of it, or it’s all over.
I recently watched a recording of his lecture and I immediately realised that his unusual job had given him some rather Buddhist insights. Specifically, he learned that no matter how distraught a person was, the second he let go of that outer railing was the very second that they wanted to live again… but it was too late.
In fact, Thai Buddhists object to suicide for precisely this reason. Thai Monks have often thought that a person would reignite the desire to live only after the point of no return. Now we really know that’s true.
It may surprise you to know that architects have long-known that bridges attract suicide. Engineers have tried to make bridges suicide-proof, but it never entirely works.
Last year, Thailand had jumpers on the Arun Amarin Bridge, the Bhumibol 2 Bridge, and the Rama 3, 7, 8, and Rama 9 Bridges in Bangkok.
Here in Phuket, the Sarasin Bridge has been a suicide hotspot ever since the 1960’s suicide of a pair of star-crossed teenage lovers who were forbidden to be together. (Who says Shakespeare is dead?) To this day, many Thai’s hold their breath and make a wish before crossing Phuket’s Sarasin Bridge.
Thailand has one suicide every two hours, and by the time someone climbs out onto an outer ledge or a roof, it is very difficult to talk them back – because a suicidal person is rarely thinking of future lives. The suicidal only see the present.
The act of suicide brings immense suffering to those left behind in it’s wake. The goal of Buddhism is to lessen the suffering of all living things, human or not, and since suicide inevitably causes needless suffering we’re staunchly against it.
There are some common factors amongst most suicides. First, be aware that suicides most commonly come from people who have experienced an acute bereavement, clinical-depression, or the elderly and distraught teenagers.
Chronic diseases and substance abuse are often overlooked as risk factors for suicide, as is acute financial crisis and cyber-bullying. Moreover, contrary to what you may see in the movies, more women attempt to commit suicide than men, paradoxically though, men are more likely to actually die from suicide.
Suicides usually happen when someone thinks like this: First they think that life sucks, never will be worth it, and then they become clinically-depressed. That 1-2-3 sequence of events is a recipe for disaster.
You have more power to prevent suicide than you may think. If you don’t know anyone who’s suicidal, consider making a donation to charities that help suicidal people or volunteer your time.
However, if you know someone who’s having a horrible time, take the time to ask them if they’re suicidal. Just walk up to them, start a nice conversation, and eventually say “others in your circumstances have thought about ending their lives. How are you doing?”
Finally, if you’re considering suicide, please consider joining Thai Buddhism rather than ending your life. You will find people there who really love and care about you and, don’t worry if you’re poor, we don’t charge anything.
Westerners can also call the Samaritan Suicide Hotline for help at 027 136 791.
Thais can call 027 136 793. Thailand also has online help available at: suicidefindinghope.com/home. They specialise in Buddhist support; but also have literature for Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons and Muslims.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.