New York State Bridge Authority and Office of Mental Health representatives gathered state lawmakers, local emergency response teams and community leaders for a suicide prevention summit last month to raise awareness, discuss better collaboration and review suicide prevention and emergency mental health response practices around the state’s vehicular and pedestrian bridges, parks and other public spaces.
Held Sept. 22 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and coinciding with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the Transportation for Life Summit marked the first of many steps to open a statewide dialogue about public suicide prevention and to create a “comprehensive approach to save lives and better support New Yorkers experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) in a press release.
The daylong summit program included prevention training sessions, keynote speakers and panel discussions featuring suicide prevention experts, survivors, as well as transportation professionals who spoke from experience about ongoing efforts to improve suicide prevention infrastructure around bridges.
In concurrent sessions, attendees learned about bridge design and engineering challenges for suicide prevention and language best practices for suicide intervention materials, such as signage, brochures and emergency messages.
With five bridges under the agency’s authority, Bridge Authority spokesperson Chris Steber said retrofitting those bridges with protective fencing remains a challenge because of cost, with an estimated $10-million to $85-million price tag. In the short term, NYSBA has focused on expanding on-site bridge resources, including an emergency phone system, cameras, signage deterrents and security staff trainings.
The aim was for summit attendees to understand that suicide prevention is a collective responsibility, explains Steber.
“No one person or one agency can solve the problem alone. But we can all work collectively and do our own part,” he says.