Is the Burgoyne Bridge the new Niagara Falls?

** Trigger Warning: The topic of this blog is suicide. Ethical guidelines regarding media reporting on suicide are respected. **

It has now been officially declared that the Niagara Region is amidst a suicide crisis with a particular focus on the Burgoyne bridge in St. Catharines. My deepest condolences are extended to those who have been affected by these tragedies, including the families and friends of those who have died by suicide.

You will notice I said, died by suicide; it is also appropriate to say, died from suicide. Words matter. In my training, I was taught to never use the terminology “committed suicide”. Saying that someone has “committed suicide” implies criminality or sin, neither of which is true. It is unnecessary, pathologizing and leaves those affected with a negative connotation. 

It is difficult to convey the overwhelming mental anguish and emptiness to someone who has never experienced depression. When your mind is plagued with depressive and suicidal thoughts, all you can see is black. You see no light at the end of the tunnel. All you want is for the pain deep in your soul to end.

It is for this reason that posting signs with suicide hotline numbers is generally insufficient for remedying this state. Individuals with suicidal ideation feel alone, they feel as if they can’t relinquish themselves from their struggles, and when someone becomes truly suicidal, picking up the phone to ask a stranger for help does not easily enter their mind. I'll explain why…

In an acute suicidal state the physiological functioning of the brain temporarily changes. This is called Cognitive Constriction, a feeling of tunnel vision. Individuals feel that their pain will never end and are faced with an inability to problem solve or find and use coping mechanisms.

Installing barriers to protect the general public is important, but the idea that installing barriers can solve this crisis is deeply flawed. It does not address the core problems, only the methods being used to end one’s life. A physical barrier may be a deterrent,  but it is not a solution. Motivated people will find other means.

The hospital system and our community mental health agencies have been criticized for not addressing this issue. Believe me, these agencies are doing the best they can with the resources they have been allocated. As a former clinical manager in community mental health I was constantly being asked to do more with less. Trying to balance lengthy wait lists with understaffed programs and dealing with disheartened clients and community partners while trying to meet unrealistic targets set by Provincial Ministries was a recipe for defeat. It was critical to work overtime, evenings and weekends to keep pace. The staff at these agencies DO care but some have become overwhelmed by their heavy caseloads and they are suffering from burnout, compassion fatigue and mental health problems themselves. It makes it nearly impossible to provide quality care for those who desperately need it.  

My concern lies with the fact that we are being reactive rather than proactive in our approach to suicide. We cannot oversimplify the complexity of suicide, as there are many factors that contribute to a person ending their life. As a mental health professional, I know that early intervention is key. Ideally, our resources should be focused on prevention and treatment so that people don't get to the point of being in crisis and feeling like they have no other options. Adding funding to front line treatment is an expensive ask, but when it comes to mental health, that kind of investment isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

**Unlike most articles that issue a suicide prevention hotline at the end of their post, I will instead ask you to tell: 
a trusted friend, 
your spouse, 
your parents, 
your teacher, 
your doctor, 
or any other caring person in your life if you are having thoughts of suicide.**

Author: Amanda R. Riley, M.A., OACCPP, Registered Psychotherapist


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