2 deaths at Burgoyne Bridge in 6 days
Although there is a partial barrier in place on the southeast side of the span, Niagara Region transportation services and public works director Carolyn Ryall said the netting is designed to prevent debris from being thrown from the bridge onto houses and buildings directly below.
Ryall said the Burgoyne Bridge — like other similar bridges over major highways — lacks any specific suicide prevention measures.
"However, regional staff are looking into the approved environmental assessment of this bridge conducted in 2012 to confirm if any further review of potential barriers is required at this time," she said.
Following the death Wednesday morning, Region CAO Carmen D'Angelo sent an email to councillors and regional staff at about 8:30 a.m., pointing out the attention garnered by the recent deaths "subject to significant social media discussions."
"Transportation services (public works) has directed our transportation consultant to provide us with some options to address the issues," he wrote. "As part of this consultation and developing options, we will be reaching out to MTO, police services, public health, community services and the City of St. Catharines.
"Once a plan has been developed, I will send a communique to all of council to keep them timely updated," D'Angelo wrote.
The effectiveness of suicide prevention barriers was illustrated in a June 2017 study by Sunnybrook Hospital, focusing on barriers set up in 2003 at Toronto's Bloor Street Viaduct.
Before the barriers were set up, the span rivalled San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge for suicides-by-jumping, with an average of nine per year. In the 11 years after the barriers were installed, only one person died by suicide at the site. And despite an earlier 2007 report that suggested suicide traffic had relocated to other nearby bridges, Sunnybrook's research suggests suicide rates across the city dropped over the long term after the barrier went up — dropping to an average of 234 per year, compared to about 257 prior to 2003.
Baylis and Niagara Distress Centre executive director Stacy Terry both agreed with the need for adding suicide prevention barriers here.
"It's good to put those type of deterrents in place, but the most important aspect is that person has to get connected to some sort of help, because there are other means of taking your life," Baylis said in an interview Wednesday — World Mental Health Day.
Terry said there is "a lot of other work that needs to be done" to address problems.
"It has to keep Niagara Region as a whole in mind in terms of how do we support, how do we prevent suicide, and how do we intervene when we need to intervene," she said.
Said Baylis, "If someone is set on taking their own life, they will find ways to accomplish that."
Baylis advised people to be wary of symptoms including depression, anxiety, giving away personal items, a change in their concentration or hygiene or appetite.
"If someone is speaking in a manner, saying 'Life's not worth living anymore' or 'I'm thinking of taking my life,' they need to take it seriously and they need to connect with somebody of a professional nature so they can get access to help," he said.
Once people receive the help they need, he said the treatment is about 85 per cent effective.
Meanwhile, Baylis said illness like depression or bipolar disorders, substance abuse, long-term difficulties with relationships, and unemployment — estimated by Statistics Canada at 7.5 per cent in September — "can also lead to someone feeling that sense of hopelessness."
"I believe Niagara Region has a higher level of serious situations and losses that lend themselves to these tragic incidents," he said.
Those serious situations are reflected in an increased demand for services being offered by organizations like Pathstone — which has seen the number of patients referred there climb by 20 per cent in the past two years.
Baylis, who previously worked as Niagara Health's manager of mental health and addictions services, said hospitals have also seen exponential increases in patients suffering from conditions like depression and anxiety — especially among Niagara's youth.
Baylis said technology is contributing to the problem among young people.
He described cellphones as "a dopamine dispensary," adding the self-esteem of the youths who use them "is based on how many connections they have that day, and if someone doesn't like what they're saying, it can have a negative impact on self-esteem."
"I think that has caused a lot of the challenges that we're seeing with kids today," he said. "Anxiety is probably the No. 1 issue that we're dealing with, and it's manifesting itself in all types of challenges. … It's critical that we look after our kids immediately once they're feeling some sort of anxiety, because if we don't it lends itself to most mental health issues that adults have."
Baylis advised people who urgently need help to visit Niagara's emergency departments.
Community-based programs include Pathstone's 24/7 crisis hotline, 1-800-263-4944, as well as the organization's walk-in clinic for youth and parents, open Tuesdays to Thursdays 9 a.m. until the last patient is taken in at 3 p.m.
Terry said Niagara Distress Centre, too, has 24-hour emergency numbers at 905-688-3711, 905-734-1212, 905-382-0689 and 905-563-6674.
The Kid's Help Phone and Jeunesse J'ecoute for French-language services can both be accessed at 1-800-668-6868, and the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line can be reached at 1-855-242-3310.
With files by Bill Sawchuk
905-225-1629 | @abenner1
905-225-1629 | @abenner1