New Brunswick

Toronto psychiatrist recommends suicide barrier at Reversing Falls bridge

A psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto says Saint John should move ahead with suicide-prevention fencing on the Reversing Falls Bridge.

Suicide-prevention fencing works, and how it looks isn't as important as saving lives, researcher says

A Saint John committee concerned about a high number of crisis calls has recommended suicide prevention barriers for the Reversing Falls Bridge. (CBC)

A researcher from the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto says Saint John should move ahead with a suicide prevention barrier on the Reversing Falls Bridge.

Dr. Mark Sinyor, a psychiatrist, told CBC News that barriers have virtually eliminated suicides at several bridges where people had jumped to their deaths.

It would be "callous" to use esthetics as an argument against the barriers, Sinyor said.

Since suicide prevention fencing was put up along the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto in 2003, there have been no suicides at the bridge, compared to nine in the year before the barrier, Sinyor said. 

Nor did the fencing lead to an increase in suicides at other city bridges, he said.

A study suggests suicide barriers like the one on Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct have virtually eliminated suicide-by-jumping. (Lori Slater)

The Community Suicide Prevention Committee in Saint John has asked the city to put up a suicide barrier on the Reversing Falls Bridge, citing a high number of crisis calls. Saint John police have reported 75 crisis calls to the bridge since 2015.

According to the committee, at least two deaths have been reported on the bridge in the past 30 months.

City council said it would support a suicide barrier but had concerns about how it would look at the bridge, which is next to a longtime tourist attraction, the Reversing Falls.

The city asked the province to consult with local tourism operators before anything is built.

Fears for tourist trade

One local businessman opposed to the barrier said he is afraid it will hurt the tourist trade. 

"Adding a suicide barrier would harm my business and the prospects of other businesses," said Max Kotlowski, owner of the Reversing Falls Restaurant.

Sinyo, however, said how the barrier looks is less important than saving lives.

"I think in some ways it's a bit callous actually to talk about the esthetics when we're talking about saving lives," he said.

"Barriers are important, they are important interventions because for some people who are at their worst moments it can delay them from the act of suicide and that buys time to think about things or seek help." 

He said the barriers also convey a message that society cares about suicide, "so in some ways I think they can enhance the appearance and history of a bridge."

A message of hope

Sinyor said some people may think they want to commit suicide, but really their minds are telling them they need help.

"We really need to send a message that when those thoughts come that we need to reach out. There is hope."

The barriers that run along the sides of bridges are just one aspect of suicide prevention, he said.

He said the way some media report about suicide and things such as the construction of suicide barriers can lead to copycat suicides.

"Our new thinking is that probably because of the wide publicity that came around the time of the barriers' construction that there was actually an uptick in deaths that might have been influenced … by that media coverage," said Sinyor.

Suicide prevention is never just about one thing, he said.

"They're a very important part of the strategy," he said of the barriers, "but they don't work just by themselves."