Study backs barriers

Installing safety barriers at jumping sites is increasingly being recognised worldwide as the "best practice" in suicide prevention, Dunedin psychiatrist Dr Keren Skegg says.

A new international study involving safety barriers at Grafton Bridge in Auckland has implications for suicide prevention measures at Lawyers Head, in Dunedin.

John Wilson Ocean Dr, which provides access to Lawyers Head, was closed in 2006 for construction of Dunedin's $37 million sewage outfall pipe.

It is still shut, after the pipe was commissioned in January this year.

A report containing options, including reopening the drive to motorists, will be presented at the Dunedin City Council's community development committee on June 9.

The international study, involving a team of researchers from the University of Otago's Christchurch campus and from Yale University in the United States, provides new evidence about effective ways to prevent suicide from bridges, and raises issues about government accountability and liability.

Researchers noted that safety barriers to prevent suicide by jumping, and which had been in place for 60 years, were removed from Grafton Bridge in 1996.

After a five-fold increase in the number and rate of suicides from the bridge, improved barriers were in 2003.

Since then, there had been no suicides from the bridge.

Researchers estimated 14 lives could have been saved if the barriers had stayed in place.

This "natural experiment" showed safety barriers were an effective suicide prevention tool, researchers concluded.

Lead investigator Associate Prof Annette Beautrais said the findings had helped lead other countries to install barriers at bridges that had become popular suicide sites.

Dr Skegg, a senior lecturer in psychological medicine at Otago University, told the Dunedin City Council last year that in the first 16 months of the John Wilson Ocean Dr closure, no-one had died by jumping from Lawyers Head.

That compared with 10 deaths off Lawyers Head, and one other jumping which the person survived, in the previous five years.

Where and what sort of barrier was put in place was a matter for the city council to decide, Dr Skegg said in an interview.

Research, including her own work, showed that people who were prevented from jumping in such places did not jump elsewhere, and remained alive.

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