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February 22, 2007  

Suicide Prevention Experts Welcome Bridge Authority Effort

Poughkeepsie, NY - According to mental health experts, the emotional crises that usually precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable.  And, although most depressed people are not suicidal, two-thirds of those who die by suicide suffer from a depressive illness

Experts also tell us that treatment for those illnesses is both available and effective - nearly eight out of ten people with depressive illnesses will improve through treatment. 

Bridge Authority Chairman James P. Sproat said, “Today we are partnering with the mental health community and the experts in suicide prevention to take our actions to another level – to facilitate their efforts to educate the public regarding the true nature of suicide, to do our best to make vulnerable individuals, their families and friends aware that there is real help available and to bring this message to others in the transportation industry.”

Stressing prevention and intervention for vulnerable individuals, the NYS Bridge Authority detailed a comprehensive plan for suicide prevention along side state and national experts in the field.

Our communities can work together to prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses” said Mary Jean Coleman, Upstate New York Area Director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.   “Educating the public to this truth is critical to the efforts at making our communities safe from suicidal behavior.  “

The announcement, held at Saint Francis hospital in Poughkeepsie also featured Dr. John Draper, Executive Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network, who said the combination of prevention and education is necessary to have an impact in any community. 

“I commend the Bridge Authority for taking action on this issue.  They can have a strong impact by stressing that mental health services are available and getting those services to people who need them will ultimately lead to less suicide,” Draper said.

Michael F. Hogan, PhD, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, said, "The Office of Mental Health applauds the Bridge Authority for promoting suicide awareness, and directly connecting individuals to Lifeline so they can get the help they need."  

"We also appreciate the support and dedicated efforts of the Saint Francis Health Care Foundation, the Hudson River Coalition for the Prevention of Suicide, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network.  Suicide is a tragedy striking thousands of New York families every year-- but collaborative programs such as this can truly make a difference and save lives,” Hogan added.

NYSBA will also partner with the Hudson River Coalition for the Prevention of Suicide.  Coalition director Joseph J. Reilly, who represented Commissioner Hogan, said he hopes the effort will bring real results to the Hudson Valley. 

Gary Spielmann, recently retired Director of Suicide Prevention for the NYS Office of Mental Health, has been consulting with the Authority since early January.

Spielmann said, “There is often an ambivalence with a will to live and a wish to die.  Making a human connection with a suicidal individual and encouraging that person’s will to live is the best way to ensure that person’s survival.”

Spielmann helped combine the resources of both state and national suicide prevention groups, provided expert advice and led the detailed study that resulted in a comprehensive approach to the problem.

Coleman added, “A suicide prevention strategy has two primary components:  diagnose and effectively treat those who have a psychiatric condition that puts them at high risk to end their own life; and use community resources, family and friends to engage individuals who harbor risk factors for suicide well before they become suicidal. 

“Every community can work together to increase public awareness and understanding of the nature and impact of mental illness, effective treatments and services, useful preventive and coping strategies, how to get help when needed, and offer support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide,” Coleman added.

In addition to stressing education and awareness about suicide prevention, the Authority will also give its own personnel additional training for proper procedure when they receive an emergency call, re-emphasize random patrols on the bridges and continue to improve monitoring and security by remote cameras.

The plan also includes the previously announced direct dial phones that will be installed at four of the bridges and link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Lifeline will route a call to the nearest available 24/7 mental health clinic that can provide qualified crisis counseling to vulnerable individuals.

Additional Information from the NYS Bridge Authority

NYS Bridge Authority Action
The Bridge Authority has conducted extensive research and sought the best advice from mental health professionals on how to address the issue.  We have also worked to solve technical issues that prevented the system used at the Mid-Hudson Bridge from being used at other facilities.
The Comprehensive Plan is the culmination of the ‘best practices’ conclusions of our technology department and advice and direction of state and national experts in the field of suicide prevention. 

Incidents of Suicide at NYS Bridge Authority Facilities
Incidents are few and rare.  For the last year in which state-wide suicide statistics are available (2004), suicides at Authority facilities comprise less than 1/20th of 1% of suicides in NYS.

Quick Facts about the New York State Bridge Authority

  • The NYS Bridge Authority operates the Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff and Rip Van Winkle bridges. 
  • The Authority is funded from bridge tolls and receives no tax monies for bridge maintenance and operation.
  • The Authority holds the highest bond rating of any toll-transportation entity in the United States, reducing bond and annual costs.
  • The $1 passenger vehicle toll for passage both ways on all Authority bridges is among the lowest nation-wide for self-supporting transportation agencies.