Bridges Need Lock Boxes
Authored by Sandra Oxx
July 19, 2021
Bridge jumping is a relatively rare occurrence, but not in Newport County and not in the past couple of months. Three people lost their lives jumping off Newport County bridges and 27 lost their lives in the past nine years.
When it comes to suicide in the U.S., the most common means is by firearms, which accounts for about 55 percent of the suicide deaths, followed by suffocation, poisoning, and jumping.
It may seem obvious to anyone who lives in Newport County as to why a person would contemplate jumping off a bridge. Bridges are everywhere. They are convenient and link our islands together. The paradox is that people around here don’t enjoy crossing bridges. They prefer to stay put, and yet they may consider jumping off the bridge, if distraught enough.
Experts say that jumping from bridges--like guns--is reserved for those who are determined to die. They operate under the notion that pills won’t work, but jumping will. Certainly, they know firearms have a high rate of lethality.
However, it’s the convenience or accessibility factor that is paramount. Around here, bridges dominate our landscape. Similarly, if someone spends time at home, and is distraught enough, an unlocked firearms or medicine cabinet becomes an easy temptation.
While prevention coalitions across the state have publicized the need for lock boxes for medicines in homes, and under Rhode Island law, licensed firearms dealers are required to sell handguns with trigger locks, our bridges have nothing more than a warning sign and Suicide Hotline phone number.
It’s time we provided a “lockbox” for our bridges, especially if that buys someone more time to live, be helped and treated for mental illness. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 90 percent of those who completed suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of death. What is more, 70 percent of those who attempt suicide are not receiving mental healthcare at the time.
No doubt, bridge netting or barriers have been discussed for decades. However, with President Biden’s recent $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the passage of a bill entitled “Bridging the Gaps for Safety” in the RI Assembly, which calls for bridge barriers on the Sakonnet River, Mount Hope, Newport Pell, and Jamestown Verrazzano bridges, could become a reality. But don’t hold your breath.
The Bridge Authority reports that serious scrutiny of the bridge integrity or capability of the bridge to withstand the extra weight of bridge barriers must be performed first, before any prevention measures are begun.
So with the temptation of the bridges in our own backyards, so to speak, and only a shred of hope for the passage of the bridge barrier bill, where do Rhode Islanders go from here?
Another suicide prevention bill is in the offing: the Nathan Bruno/Jason Flatt Act, which will provide suicide training to all staff and students, grades 6-12, at Rhode Island public schools. Recently the RI Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill, but the House Committee of Education voted to study the bill further.
Meanwhile, Newport Mental Health’s Dr. Dan Wartenberg, director of the Zero Suicide Program, is developing an interagency suicide prevention collaboration with Newport Hospital, East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP), the Women’s Resource Center, CODAC Behavioral Health, and a host of other agencies, to provide suicide screening, staff training and rigorous patient monitoring for those who have contemplated or attempted suicide.
Wartenberg is also advocating for certified suicide prevention coaches trained in the QPR (question-persuade-refer) method. In a one-hour class, suicide prevention coaches help laypeople-- parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, police, and others-- recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis. The process involves three steps: 1. Question or ask the person if thinking of suicide. 1. Persuade the person to seek and accept help 3. Refer the person to appropriate resources.
While we wait for more suicide prevention measures and trainings to pass through our legislative body and be signed into law, it is urgent that residents know to ask the most important life-saving question. Are you thinking of hurting yourself? Are you thinking of killing yourself? Never be afraid to ask twice. Newport Mental Health remains open to new clients during this crisis.
In a Newport County Prevention Coalition event at CCRI in Newport two years ago, Kevin Hines, who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and miraculously survived, wished that his father would have asked him that question before he jumped.
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call Newport Mental Health Emergency Crisis Services Line 24/7: 401-846-1213, or call the National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.