continued "I think there's reluctance on the part of the news media to report on suicide because there's a fear of normalizing suicide. I think this is true in other parts of the country, too," said Rudy Kosits, suicide and crisis-intervention specialist for United Behavioral Health. "There was a time when the Golden Gate Bridge suicides were on the front page of the newspaper, and that doesn't happen anymore." United Behavioral Health operates a hotline for San Diego County Mental Health Services. The toll-free telephone number, 800-479-3339, and the words Suicide Counseling Crisis Team 24 Hours, appear on blue signs on the Coronado Bridge. Of 91,744 calls made the year ended June 30, 2662 were either from people threatening suicide or from relatives, friends, and acquaintances of such people.
"We don't keep statistics on the bridge, but several times we have received calls from people on cell phones who are driving on the bridge or driving to the bridge. Bridge-jumping does have a certain air of flamboyance or attention-getting that other types of suicides lack. It's a statement: I was here. I am not here," Kosits said. "Suicides are mostly committed at home. Generally, people use the closest, easiest means at hand."
Like many psychiatrists, Dr. Keith Brown, a medical director for United Behavioral Health, does not believe in copycat suicides -- with the possible exceptions of teenagers, who crave a sense of belonging, and relatives of suicide victims. "I believe strongly in freedom of the press. People have a right to know what's going on. Intervention needs to be at a different level than repressing news information," Brown said. "One myth is if you mention suicide, that will plant the idea in the person to commit suicide. The reality is the best thing to do is ask about suicide. Most people who are near suicide already have the idea. Asking is likely to result in a referral for help."
Talking about treatment, counseling, medication, and their effectiveness may instill hope, Brown said, while defining suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem might penetrate an individual's negative mindset. Many suicide victims suffer from mental illness and/or addictions to alcohol and drugs, Brown said, noting that major recurrent depression not only is common but also can lead to death. About 20 percent of all Americans are stricken with such depression at some point, he said, and an estimated 10 percent of that group will kill themselves. About 1 percent of Americans are afflicted with schizophrenia, and 10 percent of those patients will also end their lives.
Many medical examiner reports on the Coronado bridge victims support Brown's generalizations linking suicide to mental illness, depression, and substance abuse.
About 13 hours after Loesel took her life, Julian Fernandez did likewise -- making October 27 a rare instance of two people jumping from the bridge on the same day. The two San Diego residents did not know each other, but both had strived in their own way to better themselves.
Besides struggling with alcoholism, drug use, and suicidal thoughts, Fernandez, 41, took Prozac to treat depression, according to his medical examiner report. Fernandez had lived in the San Diego Rescue Mission downtown to try to overcome his addictions. However, on completing a year-long substance-abuse program, Fernandez became intoxicated and was admitted to San Diego County Mental Health Services. After his release, he became intoxicated again, delivered a note to the mission, and proceeded to the bridge.
Fernandez's violent death and erratic behavior his final days contrasted with the stability he had achieved while sober. He worked in the mission's mailroom and, using his skills as a cosmetologist, cut residents' hair. True to his profession, Fernandez was a stylish dresser. "Julian was really well liked and very much loved by the mission residents," Shari Finney, the Rescue Mission's clinical director, said, recalling that more than 100 people attended Fernandez's funeral. "Julian was a kind person. He wanted to please people. He had a big heart." The two cats Fernandez adopted are still pets at the mission. Friends who miss Fernandez's comforting words and encouragement say he was troubled by separation from his wife. Fernandez spoke openly about past plans to jump from the Coronado bridge.
Loesel's jump was nearly impossible to foresee, given the absence of substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide attempts in her history. A few phrases within the medical examiner's report hinted at a deeper problem: "The decedent...recently lost her job. Acquaintances noted that she had been acting somewhat withdrawn lately." San Diego police officer Ernesto Servin was stunned to learn of Loesel's death. "It wasn't in the news. There were no signs to indicate she was suicidal." Although Loesel was quiet, Servin said, she was active in Golden Hill and expressed her concerns about safety, crime, and quality of life.
Loesel was not one to confide in people, but through casual contact Palmer pieced together her story. After her divorce in Wisconsin, Loesel moved to San Diego in 1979. She hoped to launch a career in business communications. Although she did not prosper in San Diego's low-wage economy, Loesel was generous, often giving gifts and treats to children in her neighborhood and volunteering in an elementary school. She also derived satisfaction from the Volunteers in Policing Program and the Golden Hill Citizens Patrol, which gave her an award in 1996.
Last year when Loesel gave away her pet cats -- the strays she had saved -- Palmer didn't question the explanation that Loesel had developed allergies. Now Palmer realizes that "Jan must have been in the depths of despair. She's one of these people who fell right through the cracks. She was barely getting by," Palmer said, noting that Loesel's rent increased when she lost her job.
"Not everyone who's in need of help is desperately poor or just crossed the border or is a person of color. This is not a city that helps too many people," Palmer said. "Like a lot of people who move to San Diego, Jan came here for that little pot of gold. She was searching hard for meaning in her life."