Franklin James Cook

Signs on N.J. Bridge Are a Reminder of Hard Choices

In Advocacy, Policy, Prevention on December 13, 2008 at 2:47 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — A report today in the New York Times highlights the issue of constructing suicide barriers to prevent people from jumping off of high places to kill themselves. The issue has been in the public eye recently because of a decision to build a barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge, famous for its architectural beauty and infamous as a suicide destination.

The report is about signs for a crisis line’s phone number that have been posted on New Jersey’s Victory Bridge, along Route 35 between Perth Amboy and Sayreville, from where “so far this year, there have been seven suicides and one attempted suicide.”

The issue that comes to the foreground is cost vs. effectiveness:

The New Jersey Department of Transportation paid $5,300 to install the signs on the 150-foot-tall Victory Bridge, which arches over the Raritan River. A spokeswoman for the department, Erin Phalon, said that it considered erecting a barrier, but the $2 million cost was prohibitive.

The report quotes John Draper, executive director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL, a federally funded suicide prevention crisis line answered nationwide at 800-273-TALK), highlighting the hard choices being faced by government agencies and the public over bridge barriers:

While barriers on bridges have proven to be effective in preventing suicides, no studies have looked directly at whether suicide-prevention signs work, he said.

“In some jurisdictions, there is not enough money or political will to invest in bridge barriers. The next best thing would be to do whatever you can.”

NSPL’s Steering Committee, in fact, states in a paper written by Draper “that the use of bridge barriers is the most effective means of bridge suicide prevention.”

In addition to “reducing access to lethal means” (barriers), the Lifeline recognizes that “promoting access to lifesaving means”—such as signage or other public education media near bridges that promotes awareness of hotlines (such as 273-TALK) or other suicide prevention services—is a supplement to bridge barriers. [Emphasis is in the original.]

The San Francisco Chronicle recently completed an in-depth series that comprehensively covers the decades-long debate about suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. The series features audio podcasts and video recordings as well as reader comments from November 2005.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/HardChoices .]

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