California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    Signs on ‘Suicide Bridges’ Aim to Save Lives

    This summer, the California Department of Transportation and California Highway Patrol diverted traffic on the twin overpasses connecting the 23 and 118 freeways to install 20 signs aimed at preventing suicide.

    Since construction in 1993, the Arroyo Simi Overhead viaduct has garnered attention because of an elevated number of jumping incidents that have earned them the nickname “the suicide bridges.” A total of 11 deaths by suicide have been recorded at the bridges, with two incidents occurring in 2017 alone.

    “Years ago, the city asked if they could somehow advance the safety of the bridges and we originally thought of building walls that would make them difficult to jump over,” said Brian Chong, assistant to the city manager for the city of Moorpark, California.

    Chong said the idea of solid walls presented problems with visibility for drivers on the curved overpass and were expected to lead to more traffic accidents, so a new plan was designed.

    A representative from CalTrans approached Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in April 2017 about creating road signs that would alert at-risk persons to the availability of suicide prevention resources.

    With the help of Patricia Speelman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the division director of the Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch, CalTrans developed the signs, in both English and Spanish which read in both English and Spanish state, “Feeling Helpless? We Can Help.”

    The signs include the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a confidential 24/7 hotline with trained volunteer responders fluent in English and Spanish. Calls with counselors are free and designed to de-escalate people who are suicidal in moments of crisis.

    Public Information Officer for California Highway Patrol Marco Marin said CHP offices generally take more calls responding to suicide incidents rather than crisis intervention before an incident occurs, and these signs are a step in a preventative direction.

    While CHP officers do receive some training on crisis intervention, Marin said he thinks the signs will be helpful to individuals in urgent situations so they can get help from people with more experience handling mental health emergencies.

    “I think it was an issue that was identified and CalTrans found a solution, which hopefully works,” Chong said.

    Two signs with the message were mounted on poles at either side of the four entrances and exits to the bridges with an additional six mounted to the inner sides of each. They were installed July 12 without a city vote as a public safety measure similar to how repainting traffic lines would be handled.

    “If the signs save one life, they will have been worth it,” Chong said.

    Similar signs from Didi Hirsch were installed at Metro stations in Los Angeles County in April 2013. According to Speelman, from the installation of the  Metro signs until December 2016, the hotline received 340 calls from people in crisis who had seen them.

    Michael Comeaux, PIO for CalTrans, said the most important thing that the signs do is bring awareness to an at-risk community.

    “In addition, these signs also provide a service to the population at large,” Comeaux said. “These signs remind everyone that this kind of help is available, so it helps to publicize the availability of these kinds of support services for people in crisis.”

    Speelman said the signs help raise public awareness and break the stigma associated with asking for help with a mental health issue. She said it is important for people to ask their loved ones if they may be thinking of harming themselves because most people will not express directly that they are suicidal.

    “The most important thing is just to reach out to somebody that you think may be going through a difficult time…The best thing to say is ‘there are people who can help you’ and connecting them with any resources that you know of,” Speelman said.

    If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255, Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center at 877-727-4747 or call 911.

    Katherine Lippert