Two New York Times stories about suicide recently caught my attention. The first has to do with the Vessel, the 16-story staircase sculpture at Hudson Yards. Britt and I went there in June 2019, the day before WorldPride. It was closed because of rainy weather, but we were able to take some photos.
The first time I saw the Vessel, I had a fleeting but painful thought: Someone is going to jump off this thing. Sadly, I turned out to be right. The New York Times reports that three people have died by suicide1 there, prompting its closure.
I’m both disappointed and angry at the people who designed, approved, and built the Vessel. There is no way that no one realized that the sculpture would be a magnet for those seeking to end their lives. All someone has to do is walk up to the top and jump — the only barrier is a waist-high railing. (And, even if no one had recognized the potential for suicide at the Vessel, no one considered that a strong gust of wind might blow someone off? Not even the lawyers?)
There are ways to minimize suicide incidents from high places. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge have counseling hotlines and suicide prevention barriers. Anyone who has visited an outdoor observation deck — the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Shard in London, the Burj Kalifa in Dubai, to name a few — has seen the barriers that prevent anyone from jumping.
What happened at the Vessel could have been prevented if aesthetics weren’t considered more important than preserving life.
The second article concerns Michael Evans, the project manager who helped transform an abandoned post office into Moynihan Train Hall, the spectacularly beautiful expansion of the architectural abomination that is Penn Station.
Evans died by suicide before the train hall opened. The article says that Evans didn’t reach out for help; even then, the burden seemed enormous. The New York Times writes:
Still, friends described Mr. Evans as having a hard time asking for help, and he rarely spoke about how the project demands were affecting him, leaving him to deal with the stress by himself. A perfectionist, Mr. Evans also tended to be unduly harsh on himself and agonized over every setback and perceived misstep, his partner, Mr. Lutz, said.
I wish I knew why people with suicidal thoughts don’t seek out help. I assume that they’re experiencing a toxic mixture of shame, failure, and hopelessness. They might think that a mental health professional can’t help them. These things are not true, and there are many resources that can help people in distress.
These two articles are difficult to read, but I’m glad I clicked on the links. They remind me that we — as individuals and as a society — can rise to the challenge of suicide by destigmatizing mental health issues, investing in support networks, and listening to our friends and family members.
1 Don’t use the phrase “committed suicide.” It’s misleading and stigmatizing.