Over the past couple of weeks, I have talked publicly in the media (links below) and privately about a local bridge where a lot of people have died by suicide. Many people have responded that suicide barriers on bridges will not save lives, because suicide attempts will just be displaced to other locations. However, all of the evidence that I’ve seen from the academic literature and from suicide prevention organizations indicates that suicide barriers on bridges save lives and do not cause much displacement to other locations. Here are the best three articles on this topic that I’ve come across so far:
- An article from the Lancet called Means restriction for suicide prevention indicates that: “Limitation of access to lethal methods used for suicide—so-called means restriction—is an important population strategy for suicide prevention. Many empirical studies have shown that such means restriction is effective. Although some individuals might seek other methods, many do not; when they do, the means chosen are less lethal and are associated with fewer deaths than when more dangerous ones are available.”
- An article from the Centre for Suicide Prevention called “Jumping” and Suicide Prevention states that: “Best practices recommend that barriers should be added to sites which become popular, and that they should also be considered as a feature in the design of new structures.”
- A report by the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Toronto called Suicide Prevention Through Bridge Modification reviews the evidence from the academic literature and concludes that: “Many jurisdictions have erected barriers at bridge locations and found them to be effective in preventing or reducing suicide deaths with little displacement of suicide deaths to other bridges or substitution to other methods of suicide. Other options to prevent suicide on bridges include crisis phones, signage and monitoring and surveillance of the bridge. However, there is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.” In other words, there is better evidence that suicide barriers on bridges are more effective than other means of suicide prevention on bridges.
Based on these articles and my conversations with people on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that suicide barriers are a type of mental health support. They stop people from killing themselves, and give them time to seek other forms of help. For me, this is not a debate about whether we should invest in suicide barriers or psychological support for people experiencing suicidal ideation. Both work. We should invest in both.
In trying to popularize this view, I have been quoted in the following media:
• Death of Langford teen spurs calls for barriers along Goldstream Trestle – Times Colonist – Times Colonist, January 16, 2021 – PDF
• ‘I’m angry and I’m appalled’: Victims’ families join call for safety railings at Goldstream trestle – CHEK News, January 16, 2021 – PDF
• In wake of suicide, Island Corridor Foundation wants to address safety on Goldstream Trestle – Times Colonist, January 20, 2021 – PDF
• Changes could be coming to the Goldstream trestle after calls for suicide-prevention barriers – CTV News, January 20, 2021 – PDF
• Calls for changes, barriers at Goldstream Trestle after Langford teen’s death – Victoria News, January 21, 2021 – PDF. This article quotes a researcher at the University of Victoria as saying that suicide barriers are effective.
• Why one Vancouver Island man says barriers are definitely needed at the Goldstream Trestle – CBC Radio, January 21, 2021 – Audio File Unavailable
• Group agrees changes to Goldstream trestle are needed – CTV News, January 21, 2021 – PDF. This story quotes a Registered Psychologist as saying that suicide barriers save lives.
If you would like to speak with me about these topics, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need mental health support, you can reach out to the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1‑888‑494‑3888 or visit vicrisis.ca.