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Bloor Viaduct barrier prevents suicide deaths in the long run

Jun 20, 2017

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New Sunnybrook research finds over the long term, suicide rates in Toronto declined following construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct suicide barrier.

Next to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Bloor Street Viaduct was the most frequented bridge for suicide in North America. A barrier was erected in 2003, prompting Sunnybrook researchers to study its impact.

Initial research conducted four years after the barrier was constructed found no reduction in overall suicide rates. However, this latest research examined coroner’s records over an 11-year period, and concluded there was an impact over this longer time span.

“We found that suicide-by-jumping from bridges declined in Toronto after the barrier was built, with no associated increase in suicide by other means,” says Dr. Mark Sinyor, lead investigator and psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “In the long run, the barrier appears to have had its intended effect and saved lives.”

This latest study also examined the impact of print and online media reports, knowing press coverage around suicide can, in some cases, encourage ‘copycat’ behaviour. It found that media reports on suicide at the Bloor Street Viaduct were associated with an increase in suicide deaths by jumping from bridges in the following year.

“There was a lot of media coverage and debate — some negative — around the time of the barrier’s construction in Toronto. Ironically, this may have influenced the initial spike in suicide deaths observed at other bridges in our earlier research,” says Dr. Sinyor. “Our research suggests that cities should continue to consider suicide barriers as an effective component of an overarching suicide prevention strategy. But they should also make sure to work with media proactively to convey nuanced and accurate information about suicide to prevent copycat deaths.”

He says important messages to convey are that suicide is preventable, that the conditions that give rise to suicidal thoughts are all treatable, that there is hope for recovery, and that physical barriers are a sign that society cares about those contemplating suicide.

This study is published in the BMJ Open.

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Media Contact:
Monica Matys
Communications Advisor
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
416.480.4040

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