Every three seconds, someone in the world attempts suicide. If you find yourself thinking dark thoughts, you may need something to believe in. The Quran forbids suicide, and Muslims worldwide kill themselves least. Atheists are most likely to take the final step. If you can’t find God, then seek help in Switzerland. The Swiss enjoy the third-longest life expectancy in the world, and do the busiest trade in suicide tourism. Any doctor, friend or complete stranger can help you kill yourself. It’s legal.
“The Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge is five kilometers long. It takes 20 minutes to cross on my scooter, and when I reach one end I turn back to cross again. I have a lot of experience spotting them. They always walk very slowly. A sick bird doesn’t sing, and a suicidal person behaves differently from a normal person. People who want to jump have glazed eyes, looking at nothing.
“There are two kinds of people: the forceful and the tender. If the suicider is a forceful person, I have to be tender with them and talk gently; if they are a weak person, I use force. Tender people don’t resist when I grab them. Just like a baby girl walking into danger – you can simply scoop them up from behind. The moment when I grab them used to scare me, but I am an expert now. I know I can’t be knocked off the bridge by someone suicidal. Depressed people are very passive – they’re not interested in harming anyone. I just grab them and hold on. At worst, someone might bite your thumb, but not break it.
“There are two kinds of people: the forceful and the tender. If the suicider is forceful, I have to be tender; if they are a weak person, I use force”
Chen Si, 43, Nanjing, China
“Every time I save someone, I bring them to an apartment in Nanjing I rent especially. There are two bedrooms (one for men, one for women), each with two beds. The first three days, I take time off from my job renting trucks and stay with them all the time. They have to follow a strict program. Before breakfast, they have to copy out five times with a large calligraphy brush, ‘Think about it! Death isn’t worth it.’ Then we go fishing, have lunch, take a nap, and do more calligraphy, but with a pen this time, copying out, ‘In the world, it doesn’t matter if people don’t like you. But you cannot dislike yourself.’
“After that I ask them to draw freely, and I look at their art and tell them what I see. In response they tell me about themselves and their problems. After three days, I hand them over to an American psychology professor from the University of Nanjing. Three months later, the people leave the apartment.
“Most people I rescue are in their twenties, but only about one in five are mentally ill. Young Chinese people attempt suicide because they are products of the one-child policy: as only children, they have been spoiled, but they also carry a whole family’s expectations. A third try to jump after a bad break-up, around 40 percent have social pressures, like not being accepted into university, and the rest have lost face because they wanted to marry but their fiancé’s family denied approval.
“I started coming to the bridge in 2003, when I heard about the suicides on TV. I had had a terrible time when I arrived here from the countryside. I had been working as a laborer, but my boss kept saying he would pay me later, and after one year he left town with all the money. I know how bad life can be. In a way, when I save people, I feel like I am saving myself.
“My work is sad, but there are happy moments. Every Christmas, I invite everyone I’ve saved to my favorite restaurant and we have a big meal together. When I feel troubled, I spend the night in a Buddhist monastery and listen to the chanting before I fall asleep. I’ve saved 228 people, but thousands still die. I don’t feel proud. I’m not big; I am small. I am like a pinky finger, not a thumb.”
— Chen Si, 43, Nanjing, China