The beautiful Han River is one of the primary geographic features of Seoul, South Korea. Spanning the river to connect the Mapo and Yeongdeungpo districts is a majestic bridge that has been known by several names. Officially, it was called the Seoul Bridge until 1984, when it was renamed the Mapo Bridge. It is by its unofficial name that it has gained international recognition: the Suicide Bridge.
The bridge achieved its unfortunate name because it is one of the primary focal points of suicide for the entire nation. In the five years between 2007 and 2012, more than 100 despondent people jumped from the bridge in an attempt to end their lives.
Hoping to stop this sad trend, authorities started the Bridge of Life Project in 2012. In cooperation with Samsung Life Insurance and advertising firm Cheil Worldwide, the bridge took on a new look to redirect pedestrians’ thoughts toward the value of life.
The plan included an ambitious marketing campaign, as well as a redesign of the structure. This redesign included motion-activated lights. These were intended so no one would find themselves walking alone in darkness and despair. Sculptures lined the bridge, giving the impression that there are people who are willing to listen. Additionally, inspirational messages appeared on the handrails, instilling the idea of having a conversation during the journey across the bridge. These messages included such things as “Have you been eating alright?” “The wind is really nice,” and “Let’s walk together.”
The anti-suicide efforts were announced with great fanfare, and the architects of the campaign received 37 public relations and advertising awards. Hopes were high that the nickname “Suicide Bridge” would pass into distant memory.
Alas, things did not turn out as hoped. In the first year of the anti-suicide campaign, 93 people threw themselves from the bridge — more than a sixfold increase from the prior year.
In attempting to figure out where the rubber failed to meet the road, experts have speculated that the messages placed on the bridge have only drawn attention to the Mapo Bridge as the place to go to end it all.
After two years of continued increase in suicide rates, Samsung began removing the signs, lights, and sculptures. By 2019, all anti-suicide messages were gone. Authorities have decided to refocus their efforts toward building barrier protection that will physically prevent individuals from jumping from the bridge.
Other bridges have developed distressing reputations for different reasons. Read this article to learn why Scotland’s Overtoun Bridge is known as the Doggie Suicide Bridge. Speaking of animals and bridges, read this article to learn about the €150,000 bridge built for squirrels and how that great idea turned out.