The Bridgewatch Angels: Saving Lives Every Day
An average of two people a day come the the Golden Gate Bridge to die by suicide. The Bridge District Police work tirelessly, every day, to prevent as many of those deaths as possible, but there is an uptick of people coming to the bridge on the holidays. The Bridgewatch Angels, led by Lt. Mia Munayer, is a group that walks the Golden Gate Bridge on holidays, checking on people and watching for signs of people who may be there to die by suicide.
Two years ago was my first time volunteering for the Bridgewatch Angels. Two years ago, I think we had maybe 10-15 volunteers on the bridge and today there had to be about 60-70, just for one shift!
Two years ago, I was in a very different place than I am now. The bridge then held a certain pull for me, as it does for people who have suicidal thoughts. This year, Jeff and I walked the bridge together and it was the first time I realized that I had been driving over that bridge now for months and walking it today, not feeling that pull like I used to. I am very grateful.
Many people don’t understand how people end up getting to the point that they come to the bridge to die by suicide, but I understand. This is why I am so thankful for the Bridgewatch Angels. Not only do they help the Bridge District Police on some of the busiest days of the year, but they are helping to educate people about death by suicide. 60-70 people come on a given holiday, per shift (often two shifts a day), to volunteer at the bridge.
That means that about 120 people per day, per holiday, are learning how to talk to someone who is having suicidal thoughts or who has a plan. They now know not to say things like “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” or “Think about your family and what you would do to them if you died.” Those comments only increase the probability of that person dying by suicide. Volunteers instead learn to say things like “I can see how much pain you are in,” and “Tell me how you are feeling. I will stay with you and listen.”
Most of us don’t reach out because what we are usually told is: “How you feel is just a choice,” “Other people have been in worse situations than you are,” “You have a lot to live for,” or “You are making life difficult for the people around you.”
These volunteers make the world safer, every day, for people with mental illness to reach out for help, and actually get it. The volunteers now know how to help someone- at work, at home, or in the store. These volunteers are now also advocates and educators that can help end stigma against people with mental illness. Every time someone around them shames a person with mental illness or does not understand, they can speak up and educate others.
I don’t know if most of the Bridgewatch volunteers know that they are making a difference outside of the day they are at the bridge, but they are.
Coming out the the bridge and knowing you may see someone jump, may hear terrifying stories of why people are there to die by suicide, and may have to call the Bridge Police is scary and vulnerable and the volunteers do it anyway.
I would like to thank all the volunteers, Mia, and her team, who make the world safer for those of us with mental illness, not just on the holidays, but every day.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you want to volunteer, please visit the Bridgewatch Angels Facebook page.
If you are at risk of death by suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).