Suicide prevention barriers only addressing part of the problem, expert says

Published On May 15, 2018 | By Christina Zisko | News

Suicide prevention barriers were installed on the Bloor Viaduct in 2003. (Perry Quan/Flickr)

Christina Zisko

Suicides from Toronto bridges claim 10 lives each year according to a new Toronto Public Health report, and the city is aiming to reduce that number.

By placing suicide prevention barriers at a number of bridges, the hope is that people will think twice about their decision to end their lives, a report said.

Barriers save lives, Robert Olson, with the Toronto based Centre for Suicide Prevention, told Humber News

“Barriers do often reduce suicides from bridges,” Olson said. “This is especially true if a particular bridge is an iconic site.”

“For someone at risk, the allure of a given location can be so strong that if they are restricted from using that particular site then they will tend not to go elsewhere or use other means,” he said.

The report from the city’s Medical Officer of Health references the success of the barrier erected in 2003 on the Prince Edward Viaduct on Bloor Street East.

Research on the viaduct strengthened the belief that barriers are a way of preventing suicide, said Kate Bassil, the acting associate director of Healthy Public Policy for Toronto Public Health.

The instances of suicide from the viaduct fell to just one in the last 11 years since the addition of the barrier from an average of nine per year from 1993-2003.

Echoing Olson’s sentiment, the report stated that there was no increase in suicides from other bridges, meaning the barrier is doing its job.

But some say that barriers aren’t enough when confronting the issue of suicide.

For some mental health experts, the barriers are addressing the symptoms of the bigger problem of addressing mental illness.

“The barriers are definitely one strategy,” says Leyna Lowe, a national policy and research analyst for the Canadian Mental Health Association. “But when you’re looking at addressing mental illness, it’s sort of more of a downstream measure than an upstream measure.”

Another solution proposed by Lowe is “to be able to increase access from the get-go” so that people are able to have access to the mental health services they need.

City Council requested Toronto Public Health to look into ways to prevent suicides from bridges, said Bassil. 

Physical barriers and nets led to a 93 per cent reduction in these suicides, Bassil told Humber News. 

While the barriers are a step in the right direction, access to facilities and addressing stigma is important to make sure that suicides are not contemplated in the first place, said Lowe. 

“It is one among the many different measures that can be taken to be able to stem suicide,” Lowe says of the barriers. “But as a mental health organization we definitely feel that also improving access to services is a really an important measure for addressing suicide.”

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