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May 15, 2007

Bridge Authority & Mental Health Agencies Activate
Suicide Prevention Lifeline at Kingston-Rhinecliff

A last call for help may save lives. 

The state Bridge Authority, Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene and the national Lifeline network have combined resources to install and activate special phones on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge to provide assistance to people in need.

“Research indicates that most people thinking about suicide are ambivalent about dying up to the last moment,” Dr. Kenneth Glatt, Director of the Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene said.  “If we can connect with the would-be suicide, we can save lives.”

Bridge Authority Chairman James P. Sproat said, “Getting people the help they need is the priority.  Suicide is largely preventable and these phones are a part of the broader effort to educate the public that help is available.”

The Lifeline service is available across the country, 24-hours a day, every day, by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

Gary Spielmann, recently retired state Director of Suicide Prevention and a consultant to the Bridge Authority said, “If someone is thinking about suicide, or a friend or relative suspects this is true, they should immediately call Lifeline.  The totally confidential and free call is the important point and is best made from home.”

“Human contact, and the human voice, are powerful connections that can make a life and death difference when a suicidal person is perched a hundred feet or more above the Hudson River.  This new service provides a means of reaching individuals in such situations and giving them a safe way out.  Suicidal behaviors are crisis-oriented and if we can reach persons in the midst of a crisis, healing and recovery can occur.  Connecting such individuals with persons who can help them is the goal of the Authority and its partners in the communities along the Hudson River,” Spielmann said.

The new system provides a direct-link phone that only calls Lifeline.  Lifeline will direct the call to the nearest available certified crisis center.  The Dutchess County office is first in line to receive the call. 

Dr. John Draper, Director of the federally funded National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said, “The Lifeline system connects callers to local helpers that have been trained in suicide prevention work, who will listen to the caller’s concerns and seek to get them whatever help they need.  It is important to know that this confidential, toll-free number is available for people to call from anywhere at anytime; one does not need to be on the bridge or imminently suicidal to call this number and get help.  One can also call on behalf of someone else that he or she is concerned about.”

Steve Miccio, Executive Director of PEOPLe Incorporated, a community based mental health advocacy organization serving Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties, said “These phones and, more importantly, the fact that help is available in our community, will reinforce that there is hope and concern in our community to deal with potentially overwhelming issues.”

The Bridge Authority approved up to $166,000 for the suicide prevention plan in February and will install this system on three other bridges.  The Bear Mountain Bridge will receive the Lifeline phones next.

Motorist aid call boxes will also be installed this week on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge for people with a vehicle problem or needing assistance from bridge personnel.

The Authority also issued a warning about the special phones.  The clearly marked suicide prevention phones can only call Lifeline and misuse of the phones could take a trained counselor away from someone who truly needs help.  Misuse of the phone is a misdemeanor and will be prosecuted.