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Study shows Bloor Viaduct barrier prevents suicides

June 22, 2017

Dr. Mark Sinyor, a clinician-scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, led a study on the long-term impact of the Bloor Street Viaduct barrier on rates of suicide in Toronto. The viaduct was identified as one of the world’s most significant suicide “hot spots,” second only to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. The study, which was published on June 20, 2017 in BMJ Open, also looked at the effect of media reporting on suicide rates.

Sinyor and colleagues examined records at the chief coroner’s office in Ontario 11 years before the barrier was erected in 2003 and 11 years after it was built. They found yearly suicide rates at the Bloor Street Viaduct declined significantly—from nine deaths per year before the barrier, to 0.1 deaths per year after it was put in place. They also found deaths by jumping from all bridges in Toronto declined by a similar absolute number over the long term after the barrier was constructed.

Media reports about people ending their lives at the bridge were associated with a significant increase in deaths by jumping from other bridges soon after the barrier was built. According to the researchers, their study suggests the initial spike in suicides at other bridges after the barrier was completed may have been influenced by media reporting. This phenomenon is known as the “Werther Effect,” where press coverage on suicide is linked to increased rates of death by inadvertently encouraging copycat behaviour.

The researchers concluded that barriers prevent people from taking their lives and are a necessary part of a suicide prevention strategy, but are insufficient as standalone interventions.

» Read the full story at CBC News, the Toronto Star and National Post