Surveillance footage can identify suicidal behaviour in Montreal Metro: study

A study from the psychology department of Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) believes surveillance footage in the Montreal Metro can identify people who may have suicidal tendencies.

It’s the first study of its kind, analyzing closed-circuit television (CCTV) to determine the behaviours of people considering taking their own life.

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In the Montreal Metro, there is an average of 15 suicide attempts each year.

About 75 per cent of people don’t die from their attempt, but are often seriously injured.

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“People attempt suicide because they feel that they’re experiencing a difficult situation that they feel isn’t going to end and they feel powerless,” said Brian Mishara, director of the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide and Euthanasia (CRISE) and UQAM psychology professor.

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Mishara, UQAM professor and CRISE researcher Cécile Bardon and the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) surveillance director Serge Dupont observed incidents that occurred in 35 of the 68 metro stations, some with more than one attempt.

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The study has two components.

The first part analysed video footage provided by the STM of 60 people who attempted suicide in Montreal’s underground stations over a two-year period: 41 men, 18 women and one case where the sex of the victim could not be identified.

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“We considered a suicide attempt to be any event in which an individual intentionally put him or herself in the path of a train, whether or not there was a collision, injuries or a death,” the study states.

Researchers identified seven “easily observable behaviours” and five additional behaviours that require some form of interpretation.

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For example, someone acting strange or anxious, such as waiting for several trains to pass, leaving items on the platform or pacing back and forth to the edge of the platform.

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Some of the statistics analyzing the behaviours of people showing suicidal behaviour in the Montreal Metro.

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“Whenever possible, we observed the first sighting of the individuals when they entered the station to purchase tickets or pass through the entry turnstiles, until after the event when the person or the person’s body was taken out of the station,” Mishara explained in the study.

WATCH BELOW: Preventing suicide

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Thirty-three undergraduate students watched five-minute recordings showing the moments before a suicide attempt to observe people’s behaviour.

They then compared footage from the same cameras, at the same time of the day on the same day of the week, but when no suicide attempts occurred in an attempt to isolate people considering suicide from others.

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“What’s striking is the large number of people who had behaviours indicative of ambivalence or changing their minds,” Mishara told Global News.

“Seventy-five per cent…hesitate, go out of the station, come back in. One of the most difficult things viewing the videos was the people who, after initiating their attempt, tried to get on the platform before the train came.”

The study states that, by analyzing people’s behaviours on surveillance cameras, about 24 per cent of future suicide attempts can be identified.

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The STM is integrating the study’s findings in its personnel training.

“The new [Azur] Metro trains now have something the others don’t: they allow drivers to see what’s going on from the cameras in the station before they arrive,” Mishara told Global News.
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“If they think that there’s a potential danger, then the train can slow down as it’s approaching the station and they can send someone to go up to the person and say ‘are you alright?'”

“That’s basically all it takes when someone is in a desperate situation. Someone just coming up and saying ‘are you alright?’ and often they’ll say ‘no, I’m not alright.'”

Though the study identified several “false positives” — people who may unknowingly show signs of suicidal behaviour — Mishara  points out the aim is to save lives.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

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