Can stenciled hotline numbers on bridges prevent suicides?

Dana Bogema needed to blow off steam Monday, so she went for a run on the High Bridge in St. Paul. While running, she saw somebody climb to the top and jump.

Dana Bogema needed to blow off steam Monday, so she went for a run on the High Bridge in St. Paul. While running, she saw somebody climb to the top and jump.

"At first I thought that they were just messing around, or like when you try to get in a good position to get your picture taken, and then I thought, ’Did I really just see that?’ " Bogema said.

The experience prompted her to take action. The next day, she created a petition on asking the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Gov. Mark Dayton to stencil a suicide hotline number onto the High Bridge.

Three days later, more than 200 people had signed Bogema’s petition.

"Too many people are killing themselves on the High Bridge," the petition reads. "By having a telephone number to call in addition to inspirational quotes about hope and not giving up, people could be given an alternative and make them think about not going through with ending their life."


Before Monday’s incident, the most recent police activity on the High Bridge was July 5 for an attempted suicide, St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos said.

"Anything that will give that person one more second to think about what they do before they could do something that is harmful to themselves or others is absolutely the right direction to go," Paulos said of the petition’s idea.

St. Paul police could not confirm Thursday how many suicides have taken place at the High Bridge. Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows 268 suicides in Ramsey County from 2007 to 2011.

But suicide by jumping or falling from a high place is uncommon, said Daniel Reidenberg, executive director of Bloomington-based suicide prevention nonprofit SAVE.

Fewer than 1 percent of suicides are attributed to people jumping or falling from a high place, he said.

Stenciling the hotline and hopeful messages on the High Bridge could be helpful, but it has to be part of a more comprehensive approach, Reidenberg said.

Limiting access to a means of suicide is a more effective way to prevent it, he said.

"Putting a number up doesn’t reduce access, but it may save someone’s life if they are up there and don’t know what to do," Reidenberg said.


He pointed to the success of a bridge in Seoul, South Korea, that was revamped with hopeful messages.

The Mapo Bridge over the Han River had a high suicide rate, so Samsung’s life insurance division created a way to cast the bridge in a new light.

"As you walk, lights come up along the railing. It’s an interactive piece with messages of hope," Reidenberg said. "Instead of a bridge of death where people were dying, it became a community place."

The St. Paul petition is addressed to Dayton, MnDOT and MnDOT area manager Sheila Kauppi. MnDOT officials could not be reached for comment.

Bogema has friends who have lost someone in their lives to suicide.

"They have been torn up about it. There’s a hole in their heart, and they would like to do something for them about it," she said. "We can try something, even if we try and it doesn’t help very much but one person. We don’t know what the ripple effect is going to be until we do it."

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