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Suicide Prevention through Engineering and Reporting

In four months, four people have committed suicide by jumping off the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, prompting Nevada’s department of transportation to consider adding a net or barrier to prevent more people from ending their lives by jumping.

While NDOT is working with experts to understand what methods are most effective at discouraging suicides, engineers say that there are other factors to consider in bridge design, among them, preventing terrorism.

“The bridge was planned immediately after 9/11,” says NDOT engineer Mary Martini. “The reason the funding came through is to protect the dam and make sure the bridge itself didn’t become a terrorist target.”

Martini says that platforms, nets and scaffolding that might be used as a deterrent to suicides could also give terrorists access to the bridge.

While it’s the job of engineers like Martini to consider suicide prevention by creating physical barriers, there are other questions to consider.

Like, once a suicide happens, how should the media report on it in a way that doesn’t encourage imitators?

Journalist Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute says that the media does have an obligation to report suicide, particularly when it happens at a public landmark, like the Hoover Dam.

Support comes from

“You can’t get away from describing what is actually happening,” says McBride. “Suicide is a huge problem and we don’t do a very good job in the media of covering it. One thing you can do as a journalist is use current events to get people information about where they can find resources.”

McBride takes issue with the photo that appeared recently in the Las Vegas Review-Journal showing a man just before he jumped to his death. The goal in covering suicide, she says, is to avoid glorifying the event or the person who committed the act. She said photos should only depict the victim when they were alive, not photos of the actual suicide attempt, or pictures of mourners.

Other steps for avoiding “the contagion effect” are to avoid attributing the suicide to a one simple reason, like a divorce or a failed test, don’t describe the suicide in too much detail, don’t use sensational headlines, and don’t describe the suicide as being a “successful attempt.”

What do you think of the media’s coverage of suicide? Share your thoughts.


Friday, August 3, 2012