Barriers may not cut suicides: study
A new study says that the suicide barrier erected on Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct hasn't reduced the number of people who jump to their death in Canada's largest city every year.
The report concludes what many critics said at the time the barrier was being built: people intent on committing suicide by jumping from heights will just find another location.
The Bloor Street Viaduct held the dubious distinction of being the bridge with the world's second highest suicide rate after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Between 1992 and 2002, there were an average of 10 suicides a year at the Toronto location.
After the barrier was completed in June 2003, that number dropped to zero.
"However, there was no impact on suicide by jumping in the region as a whole," a summary of the report states. "Toronto's overall yearly suicide rate by jumping was almost unchanged when comparing the pre- and post-barrier periods at 56.4 per year compared to 56.6 per year."
The researchers, led by psychiatrist Dr. Mark Sinyor from University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, also found that "there was a statistically significant increase in suicides by jumping from bridges other than the Bloor Street Viaduct."
One thing that the researchers couldn't quantify however is the effect the barriers may have on impulse actions.
"[The barriers] may save more lives than other suicide prevention strategies, especially in children and young adults, who tend to act impulsively in fleeting suicidal crisis," the study says.
One of the strongest impetuses for the barrier in Toronto was the suicide of 17-year-old Kenneth Au Yeng.
The St. Michael's Choir School student had been admonished on the morning of Dec. 17, 1997 for his part in a school yearbook prank. Several hours later he vaulted over the side of the bridge.
His tragic death helped to push local politicians into taking action.
Similar barriers have also been erected at other world landmarks — the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower being prime examples.
The researchers conclude that, "this research shows that constructing a barrier on a bridge with a high rate of suicide by jumping is likely to reduce or eliminate suicides at that bridge, but it may not alter absolute suicide rates by jumping when there are comparable bridges nearby."
The study was published by the British Medical Association.