STEMMING THE TIDE OF SUICIDES
Groups work to prevent tragedies
by Kirby Lindsay
Originally published in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook on June 17, 2009
On June 3rd, the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted, 6 – 5, in favor of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) application for a certificate of approval to build a safety barrier on the George Washington Memorial Bridge. The steel barrier will stand 8’9” high and extend along both sides of the bridge, otherwise known as Aurora.
The barrier, often referred to as a suicide fence, has been developed as a deterrent against those who consider jumping off the bridge. This past spring the final piece of funding for the barrier – currently budgeted at $8.06 million – won approval as part of the state transportation budget for the 2009 – 11 biennium.
The size of the sum, and the scale of the project, sounds ambitious. At the Landmarks Preservation hearing some citizens questioned spending money in this way to prevent suicide. Two leaders in the fight to prevent suicide explained this matter is not an either/or.
“Why do we have to choose between a barrier and care?” Sue Eastgard, Executive Director of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) asked. Crisis Clinic Executive Director Kathleen Southwick pointed out that funds budgeted to build the barrier come from gas tax revenue. This money would not otherwise be available for services for the mentally ill.
There are prevention programs, including Crisis Clinic which takes 90,000 calls a year. Southwick praised the King County Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Action Plan (MIDD) funded through a raise in sales tax monies by 0.1 percent. MIDD will implement treatment, housing and case management services for people homeless and/or mentally ill to avoid their becoming part of the criminal justice or emergency room systems.
“It takes strategies,” Southwick pointed out, to prevent suicide. No single service or program will solve the problem. “We can’t assume everyone will seek out help,” Eastgard asserted, or that everyone considering suicide will access services. Suicide occurs among “people in such despair that they need the pain to stop,” Southwick explained, “not about they want to die.”
“I believe most people [who attempt suicide] are ambivalent,” said Eastgard, “they want to stop the pain, but they don’t see the alternatives.” Suicide tends to be an impulsive act; an impulse that can be defeated by a single obstacle.
We all know about impulses. We eat the chocolate, drink the alcohol or speak the ill-formed thought unless we stop to reconsider. Given time to think, and get over the impulse, someone considering suicide may seek other options and aid.
“This is a preventable tragedy,” Eastgard stated. She works with youth, and adults, who lack the skills to safely face life’s challenges. Eastgard focuses on developing a set of four skills:
- Learn to tolerate distress in healthy, moral and legal ways.
- Identify feelings, beyond angry and bored, for clarity.
- Make and keep friends, by initiating and following through in relationships.
- Develop problem solving skills that include an identification of resources, people to talk to and quality help.
Crisis Clinic provides resources through the state 2-1-1 service. This database of community agencies offers direction to assistance with mental health counseling, consumer services, legal services and more.
Southwick suggested education on mental health, and suicide, be done like that of tobacco and breast health. “The first thing is to recognize it is a major public health issue,” Southwick said, but “an ‘if only we do this’ solution doesn’t exist.”
Death by suicide remains a risk, and no single plan can stop every attempt. “It would be ideal if everyone called the Crisis Clinic,” Eastgard explained, but “we can’t assume everyone will seek out help” even should services be fully funded and available. “We need the services,” Eastgard emphasized, “but it is not an either/or.”
A barrier on Aurora can provide a deterrent to those who might consider jumping, Southwick identified, but it also can lessen the risk of trauma to witnesses, rescue workers, and the family and friends left behind to navigate the inexplicable, sudden death of a loved one.
A barrier on the bridge, Eastgard maintained, sends a message. Her work involves teaching youth and caregivers to reach out to those who consider suicide, “in hugs, in building barriers and in getting in your face.” The barrier silently speaks to those who suffer, it says, “we care enough about the people in our community to keep them alive.”
If you care to get involved, visit the web site for YSPP at www.yspp.org and Crisis Clinic at www.crisisclinic.org. Both sites boast an incredible amount of valuable information – including bibliographies, warning signs, community resources, etc. Also, YSPP offers speakers willing to address church, youth or service groups.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know needs help, contact Crisis Clinic 24-hours a day at 866-4CRISIS (866-427-4747)
- "Hope For The Aurora Bridge"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Oct 21, 2009
- "The draw of the Aurora Bridge"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Sept 8, 2009
- "Hurdles to the Bridge Barrier Cleared for Construction"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Sept 1, 2009
- "A matter of life and death"
- by Kirby Lindsay, Jan 25, 2008
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.