May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time where we stop to recognize and think about the millions of Americans living with mental illness. For those who have lost loved ones to suicide from mental health illness, May is also an important time to focus on policies and actions that must be taken to prevent further loss of life. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a well-recognized symbol of our beautiful state. It is also well recognized for the increasing number of suicides from individuals jumping from the bridge. (”Bridge over troubled souls,” April 18, 1995)
Dozens, if not hundreds, of fatalities have been recorded from suicide jumps off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge since its opening in 1952. Those living in the Annapolis and Kent Island area are too frequently confronted with the knowledge of a jumper, so much that it is now impossible to drive over the bridge without thinking how easy it would be. The walls between the road and the water are not enough of a deterrent to provide that important second chance. Research tells us that a second chance saves lives. A Harvard School of Public Health article reviewing numerous studies showed more broadly that 90% of those “who attempt suicide and survive will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.”
Do lawmakers have a financial plan to safeguard the sides of the bridge with preventative measures to stop fatalities greater than just having the U.S. Coast Guard on call to retrieve bodies? They should . It is well past time to make the bridge safer, whether to prevent accidents or suicides (“Bay Bridge traffic jams will continue,” May 11). When lawmakers talk about repairing or enhancing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, they must include costs for suicide deterrent systems. This includes fencing, safety nets and call boxes like what is in place on the iconic bridges of the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, New Mexico, and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. These are architectural adjustments that could make it almost impossible to get over the bridge railing so that would-be jumpers are thwarted.
Environmentalists are concerned about land use issues with greater traffic across the bay. Commercialists see dollar signs. Politicians see votes. All of us should see unnecessary lives lost due to poor planning and construction. Let’s make bridge safety part of the total equation.
— Jennie Boyce and Chris Mudd, Brooklandville
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