Toronto

10 people die by suicide from Toronto bridges every year, but city aims to prevent that

The city is exploring the possibility of building suicide prevention barriers on bridges after 125 deaths occurred over a 10-year span.

City exploring suicide prevention barriers on bridges after 125 deaths over a decade

Mark Henick, a Toronto-based mental health strategist and advocate, believes suicide prevention barriers like those at Toronto's Prince Edward Viaduct, are a key component of the fight to reduce suicide deaths. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Standing on the edge of an overpass, Mark Henick was intent on taking his own life.

It was 2002 in the harbour town of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Henick, a teenager struggling with depression, had made multiple suicide attempts in the years before.

That night on the bridge, there was no barrier keeping him from jumping off the edge.

"I would've died that night if somebody had not saved my life," he recalled.

Henick, now a Toronto-based mental health strategist and advocate — who made headlines two years ago by tracking down the man who pulled him to safety — believes suicide prevention barriers play a key role in the fight to reduce suicide deaths. 

He's among those praising the city for looking into implementing these barriers and other prevention strategies on bridges across Toronto, a proposal which was given the green light by council's executive committee on Monday.

"Many jurisdictions have erected barriers at bridge locations and found them to be effective in preventing or reducing suicide deaths," said Kate Bassil, Toronto Public Health's acting associate director for healthy public policy, in a statement.

125 suicide deaths from bridges over 10-year span

Bassil's team prepared the report, spurred by a city council request two years ago. From 2004 to 2015 there were 125 suicide deaths from bridges across Toronto, the report notes — an average of 10 deaths every year.

However, research shows a 93 per cent drop in suicide deaths from bridges following the implementation of barriers or nets, Bassil said.

Toronto's Prince Edward Viaduct — the overpass typically called the Bloor Viaduct, connecting Bloor Street East to Danforth Avenue — is one example of that success.

Before barriers were built in 2004, there was an average of nine suicides from the bridge each year in the previous two decades. Since the barrier's completion, there has only been one suicide death from the bridge, with no increase in deaths at other city bridges.

"It's a proven method that we know works," Henick said.

The city's transportation services department plans to review the feasibility of implementing bridge barriers, along with other possible suicide prevention methods like crisis phones and signage. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Bridge barriers 'a proven method'

With that research in mind, the city's transportation services department plans to review the feasibility of implementing barriers at more locations, along with other possible prevention methods like crisis phones or signage.

That work is expected to begin next year, but Bassil wouldn't confirm which bridges the city is looking at, citing the need to prevent a "contagion" effect.

According to the report, transportation services' feasibility assessments on the "priority bridge locations" could cost between $1 million and $2 million.

Before barriers were built in 2004 on the Prince Edward Viaduct — the overpass connecting Bloor Street East to Danforth Avenue — there was an average of nine suicides from the bridge each year in the previous two decades. Since the barrier's completion, there has only been one suicide death from the bridge. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

While Mayor John Tory noted there are "not unlimited public resources" available, he expressed his support for the upcoming bridge review.

"We have to look at these on a one-by-one basis and try to decide as best we can what we can do to minimize people taking their own lives," he said.

Henick stressed the city's focus on bridges is just one area that needs attention. More funding for mental health professionals and stigma reduction are key areas as well, he said. 

"We also need to be intervening further upstream to prevent them from being suicidal in the first place," Henick added.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca