Suicide attempts on High Level Bridge down 50% since barriers installed: city

Click to play video: 'Numbers suggest safety barriers on High Level Bridge may be reducing number of suicides'
Numbers suggest safety barriers on High Level Bridge may be reducing number of suicides
WATCH ABOVE: The city is releasing new details about suicide attempts on the High Level Bridge nearly a year after safety barriers were installed. As Vinesh Pratap reports, the barriers seem to be working – Jun 13, 2017

The City of Edmonton said the number of suicide attempts on the High Level Bridge has dropped by 50 per cent in the year since safety barriers were installed.

“I didn’t anticipate we’d have that kind of result already,” Coun. Bev Esslinger said. “So, to see that we’ve already seen a 50 per cent reduction in attempted suicides, that’s great news for the city. It really shows that it is a worthwhile project for us to have invested our dollars in.”

READ MORE: ‘We hope this ends what’s been a fairly dark chapter’: City on High Level Bridge suicide barriers

EMS responded to five suicide attempts in 2016, compared to 10 attempts in 2015, according to Alberta Health Services. Edmonton police responded to 21 mental health occurrences in 2016, down from 41 in 2015.

“The safety barriers were installed to provide a moment of pause or a sober second thought for those who may be suicidal,” said Kris Andreychuk, supervisor of Community Safety with the City of Edmonton.

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READ MORE: Mysterious tape sculptures appear along Edmonton’s High Level Bridge

He added it’s still too early to know for sure what effect the barriers are having, but said after following similar projects and research in other cities, Edmonton staff believe the high-level barriers are acting as a deterrent to suicide.

“I was always confident that this was going to save lives,” Mayor Don Iveson said, “and I think these statistics bear that out.

“I think that the statistics show that fewer people are making that sad choice on the High Level Bridge. There’s still some calls for service but they’re way down which shows that the barriers are having the desired deterrent effect.

“That’s obviously good for those people who now are not making that choice in that location. But it’s also good for our first responders who are now available to respond to other calls for service because the bridge is a very complicated place to respond to that kind of call and it’s very resource intensive.”

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Approximately 500 Albertans die by suicide each year, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. The organization claims suicide is one of the leading causes of death among Albertans.

“Suicide is a complicated issue,” said Ione Challborn, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Edmonton.

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“People who die by suicide or attempt suicide usually feel overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, desperate and alone.”

Alberta’s chief medical examiner said out of the 668 people who died by suicide in 2015, 21 died from falls from a height. In 2016, the total number of deaths by suicide was 496 and 12 of those were caused by a long fall.

The city installed the barriers on the bridge and added emergency phones to the area as part of its suicide prevention strategy.

A view of the High Level Bridge on March 26, 2017. Julia Wong/Global News

Challborn said the barriers allow people to rethink their intent when they arrive at the bridge.

“The barriers show a level of care from the city and the emergency phones on the bridge may act as a cue to reach out for help,” he said.

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“We added the call boxes and the messages etched into the concrete,” Iveson added. “There were a number of measures there that provide deterrent value and provide support to people and it also even for interveners, for bystanders, who have saved many lives on that bridge as well by stepping in, it gives them more opportunity to step in.

“This was never meant to deal with those root cause issues, but to just deal with an acute suicide hot spot which we saw developing around the bridge,” the mayor said.

With up to 4,000 pedestrians and cyclists crossing the bridge daily, there have been complaints the barriers have made the High Level difficult to navigate.

WATCH: Suicide barriers on High Level Bridge make span harder to navigate 

The $3-million barriers were mounted inside the existing rail, which has left less space – especially on the east side – and caused both sides of the bridge to be narrower than the new shared-path standards.

A safety audit backed up the complaints, but the city said no long-term options for easing congestion can be considered until the bridge comes up for renewal, which won’t happen for at least five years.

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READ MORE: Pathways on High Level Bridge too narrow: Edmonton safety audit

The 102-year-old bridge’s dark history was the subject of a 2010 short film.

Crews began installing the safety barriers in September 2015 and construction was completed in July 2016.

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 Prevention, the 24-hour Distress Centre and Alberta Crisis Centres all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

— With files from Scott Johnston, 630 CHED

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