On the south side of the upper deck of Portland’s Fremont Bridge, construction workers are currently building a 1,100-foot chain link fence. The purpose of this barrier is to slow down people planning to attempt suicide by jumping off the bridge into the Willamette River below.
Three years after a similar barrier was constructed on Southwest Portland’s historic Vista Bridge in August of 2013—an endeavor prompted by local Bonnie Kahn, who persuaded city commissioner Steve Novick and the Portland Bureau of Transportation to implement experimental fencing in order to lower suicide rates—the Oregon Department of Transportation has taken on the $250,000 job of building a second barrier on another bridge in the area that is also commonly used for suicide.
Kahn, a small business advisor who worked in an office below the Vista Bridge, noticed bodies piling up over the years. After speaking to Oregonian reporters on the topic in February 2013, she realized it was time for a change and sent the city her research. The data she had collected showed that at least seven locals had jumped to their deaths from the Vista Bridge between 2003 and 2013.
The members of local suicide prevention groups are among those who helped persuade officials to create a second barrier, which would seem appropriate as the Fremont Bridge is the busiest in all of Portland. According to a reporter who spoke last month on Portland’s KGW TV News, about 122,000 cars cross the Fremont every single day. Spokespeople of anti-suicide groups and crisis hotlines agree that this barrier, though not wholly impossible to climb, will slow down potential jumpers and give them more time to reconsider the choice to leap to their deaths.
The bridge will run from the east to the west shore of the Willamette River. According to the KGW report, government research has shown that bridge barriers prevent 90% of jumper-suicides—that is to say, 90% of those planning to attempt suicide stop and change their minds when faced with a barrier. ODOT worked with mental health advocates and officials in drawing up plans for the barrier.
In Oregon, the state with the country’s 10th highest suicide rate, projects like this one are not only invaluable in preventing suicide, but also in increasing recognition of Oregon’s suicide problem and fostering community dialogue surrounding the issue.
The most recent statistics released by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention list suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the country. Each year, 42,773 Americans die by suicide, and on average, 117 suicides occur across the US every day. Suicide rates have increased since 2005 from just over 10 per 100,000 individuals to nearly 15 in the year 2014.
In Oregon, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death, and one person will die by suicide approximately once every 11 hours in the state. More people in Oregon die by suicide than homicide every year. It’s the second leading cause of death for Oregonians aged 10 to 34 years old and the third leading cause of death for ages 35 to 44.
The Plan for Youth Suicide Prevention and A Call to Action are two of Oregon’s leading state plans for strategizing prevention of suicide and facilitating research on the subject. Oregon’s House Bill 4124, passed in April of 2014, addresses the specific issue of youth suicide in Oregon through the improvement of the aforementioned plans by requiring interventions, increasing the ease of access to prevention services to mentally ill youth, and obliging hospitals to report incidents of attempted youth suicides and self-harm.
If you, a friend, or loved one are considering suicide, please call one of the Benton County Mental Health’s crisis numbers at 541-766-6844 or 1-888-232-7192, or reach Corvallis’ Community Outreach Crisis Line at 541-758-3000. For people in other areas of Oregon, please visit http://www.suicide.org/
By Kiki Genoa