Suicides decrease on Toronto subway platforms in 2015

Toronto's subway system saw significantly fewer people try to kill themselves in 2015 — with five attempted suicides and 11 completed suicides over the course of the year.

But lower numbers aren't stopping the push for suicide barriers on TTC platforms

The number of attempted and completed suicides was substantially lower on TTC subway platforms in 2015, but experts aren't sure why. (CBC)

Toronto's subway system saw significantly fewer people try to kill themselves in 2015 — with five attempted suicides and 11 completed suicides over the course of the year.

Those 16 incidents are considerably fewer than the 26 reported in 2014 and also lower than the mean number of suicide incidents on TTC subways since 1998, which is 23.

However, neither the TTC, the city nor mental health professionals have an explanation for the lower numbers. 

Susan Sterling, the manager of corporate communications with the TTC, said the transit system has had suicide prevention programs in place since 2011, but she doesn't attribute the lower number of suicides and attempted suicides in 2015 solely to those initiatives. 

"These programs are designed to aid in prevention, but the subway is simply a means by which people attempt to take their lives," she said. "We cannot definitively say why stats are down."

The TTC has a Gatekeeper program aimed at training frontline staff in recognizing behaviour that indicates crisis and getting help, as well as a Crisis Link program in partnership with Toronto Distress Centres, which provides each subway platform with a suicide hotline, linking callers with a trained distress centre responder.

According to Toronto Distress Centres, they get more than 200 calls from subway platforms every year — a number that has remained consistent since the implementation of the program in 2011.

No one who has called the helpline has ever gone on to make a suicide attempt, according to Crisis Link.

Platform edge doors

Karen Letofsky, the executive director of Toronto Distress Centres, said although Crisis Link is a pioneering program that has had impact in saving lives, only platform edge doors — automatically controlled doors that act as barriers to the subway tracks and only allow access when a train stops — can ultimately prevent suicides on TTC subways.

"I think [the programs] are part of a very comprehensive solution," she said. "We are feeling hopeful they are making some difference, but we know that the longer term solution involves a whole new system of how to keep people safe."

Platform edge doors were one of several recommendations made by Toronto Public Health in a report on preventing suicides in October last year, which account for 243 deaths a year in Toronto. 

But so far, there's no plan to fund the installation of subway platform barriers and the TTC can't put them in place until 2020 at the earliest.

Implementing them would cost an estimated $1 billion, which is considered expensive for Toronto's cash-strapped transit system.

'A very, very good investment'

Platform edge barriers have been proven to be effective in 35 major cities around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris, according to a City of Toronto report. The barriers work by restricting access to the track level.

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who is the chair of the Toronto Board of Health and sits on the TTC board, supports the implementation of platform edge doors, because as well as preventing suicides, they would also make the transit service more efficient by allowing trains to move in a out of stations faster.

"So right now, when a driver goes into a station, they slow down," he said. "This is because they are looking for people who are jumping, they are just more cautious, especially during the rush hours."

According to the TTC, it can't bring in platform edge doors until it installs a system called Automatic Train Control — driverless trains that can stop within centimetres of a designated target in the station.

That system will not be in place until 2020 at the earliest. Once it is implemented, a decision about funding will be required before going forward with any plan. 

"A new subway costs many, many billions of dollars," said Mihevc. "But with platform edge doors, if you can increase your capacity during the morning rush hour by 20%, then that is a very, very good investment."

TTC subway suicide incidents since 1998
YearSuicidesAttemptsTotal Incidents
1998121325
199922426
2000211233
2001121729
2002161127
200317926
200415823
200514620
200681119
200713922
200811819
200914418
2010191029
20118816
201211820
20138917
201491726
201511516

Source: TTC

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