‘Barriers and netting’ to stop suicides on Derry bridges

Professor Thomas Joiner who was the guest speaker at the Suicide Prevention Conference at Clooney Hall.  (dER4113JB142)
Professor Thomas Joiner who was the guest speaker at the Suicide Prevention Conference at Clooney Hall. (dER4113JB142)

Suicide prevention measures should be taken on bridges in Derry, an international expert on the subject has said.

Higher railings and even netting can be employed to remove the “means” for suicide at river crossings such as Foyle and Craigavon bridges, Professor Thomas Joiner of Florida State University said when visiting the city last week.

Prof Joiner, a world authority on suicide prevention research, was the keynote speaker at the Irish Association of Suicidology’s annual conference in co-operation with counselling charity Contact at the City Hotel.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’, Prof Joiner said “the jury is in” on the dangers of bridges in terms of providing a “means” for suicide.

“It’s a huge problem in the US as well. Whether the city commissioners and others have the political will to put up barriers, that is another matter.”

He explained: “Instead of a rather low railing which one can scale with relative ease, they can make the railing higher by a foot, two feet, so that it’s a lot harder to scale. Better yet, make it so that you can’t jump off that bridge at all because there is netting.

He said calls for such steps have often proved “controversial” due to the visual impact and the cost which goes with it.

“It’s up to engineers and architects, they can solve aesthetic problems but that costs money and that’s what it really all comes down to. You want it to look good and not save lives by not spending the money - to me the equation is pretty plain but it’s not plain to a lot of political folks. “I think it’s a moral outrage. We know how to save lives and yet don’t have the political will to do it.

“It wouldn’t happen if we knew how to prevent heart disease or cancer or stroke or something like that, we’d fund it.”

At the Derry event, Mr Joiner presented his model for identifying those at risk of suicide, which has become prominent in the field of suicide prevention in the US and elsewhere.

He has designed a set of 12 questions which helps identify people at risk. The questions are designed to identify whether the persons have a convergence of three particular feelings: ‘fearless of injury and death’; ‘perceived burdensomeness’ and ‘thwarted belonging’. “People who are high on each of the three components are by definition in the at risk zone,” he said. “The model has been used in the US military, in clinical settings around the world and elsewhere.”