Letter: Bridge barriers save lives

Posted 5/2/24

I applaud the Bristol Town Council for adopting the resolution to the General Assembly that supports this critical and life-saving action for all Rhode Islanders.

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Letter: Bridge barriers save lives


To the editor:

I am writing to thank the Bristol Town Council for their recent vote (4-1) on April 17 to adopt a resolution to support the installation of suicide prevention barriers on the bridges over Narragansett Bay.

I write this letter as a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychiatry at Brown University, suicide prevention researcher, and family member of longtime Bristol resident (and prolific op-ed letter writer) Saul Ricklin, who was my grandmother’s brother. Their brother died by suicide decades ago, at a time when knew so much less about how to best prevent suicide than we do now.

I felt compelled to write this letter, however, to address a few issues that arose during the Town Council’s discussion. One member of the Town Council shared his experiences with people in the community who died by suicide. It’s an understandable impulse to share these stories with others, thinking they will de-stigmatize and shed light on this important problem; however, words matter when it comes to public discussions of suicide.

Providing specific, intimate details regarding the method of death in suicides, as unfortunately occurred in the April 17 meeting, can inadvertently create a contagion effect, and increase risk in communities. As public officials, it is critical that individuals use responsible language in public discussions on the sensitive topic of suicide. I’d recommend the Bristol Town Council and others consult the following website to learn more: https://reportingonsuicide.org/recommendations/

Also during this discussion, the argument was made that bridge barriers are insufficient, that instead we need treatment, and that people will just “find another way.” This argument presents a false dichotomy. We absolutely need individual-level targeted preventive interventions, but we also need wider-reaching population-level interventions to prevent suicide in our communities. We know that bridge barriers can serve as an effective means to reduce suicide at this population level.

Over the past 20 years, there has been growing body of research on suicide barriers in the US and worldwide showing that installation of bridge barriers is the most effective form of prevention at jumping sites, with an 86 precent reduction in suicide deaths across these settings. Remarkably, following the installation of the bridge barrier at the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, Canada, citywide suicide rates – by any means – significantly decreased over 10 years of follow-up.

The lessons from the research to date are clear: bridge barriers are effective at reducing suicide deaths. In addition to targeted treatment, proactive approaches – such as the installation of bridge barriers – are required to reduce direct access to certain lethal means and prevent suicide at larger scale.

I applaud the Bristol Town Council for adopting the resolution to the General Assembly that supports this critical and life-saving action for all Rhode Islanders.

Lauren Weinstock, PhD
Kingston, RI

Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one needs immediate support, help is available by calling or texting the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Additional supports are available through https://preventsuicideri.org/

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