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UBC psychiatrist highlights complex factors behind suicide trends in Mission

Suicides have fluctuated over the past decade, with advocates suggesting barriers on Mission Bridge
Mission recorded 57 suicide deaths from 2013-2021 according to BC Coroners Service with an average of 6.3 per year. / Metrocreative Photo

WARNING: This story discusses suicide

Over the last decade, the number of suicide deaths in Mission has fluctuated. However, a BC expert says numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

According to statistics provided by BC Coroners Service, the Mission local health area had a total of 57 suicide deaths from 2013-2021 with an average of 6.3 per year.

Six suicide deaths occurred in Mission in 2021, with numbers reaching a high of 11 in 2015 and a low of two in 2018. The Fraser Health region as a whole suffered 141 suicide deaths in 2021.

The BC Coroners Service says 2022 data is unconfirmed but an information update is on the way in the next few months.

The UBC Department of Psychiatry’s Dr. Tyler Black says analyzing suicide trends can be difficult due to a host of factors. Small sample sizes, limited information and a lack of data regarding attempts can restrict analysis on the causes of suicide.

“A lot of people have almost a naive sort of notion that there’s a single cause of suicide,” Black said. “The decision to end someone’s life comes with a number of factors.”

Black says there is a need across Canada for suicide surveillance data. However, he says some suicide prevention measures like suicide barriers on bridges are proven to be effective.

“Really one of the only evidence-based ways to reduce suicides is means restriction,” Black said. “Gun control or taking Tylenol out of bottles and putting it into blister packs are examples of means restriction that work.”

Crisis Centre of BC executive director Stacy Ashton says the organization is advocating for suicide barriers on bridges throughout the province. Ashton cited a study that shows barriers are associated with a 93 per cent reduction in suicide deaths per year.

“Bigger bridges are sort of beacons to people who express or experience suicidal thinking,” Black said.

Mission RCMP media relations officer Harrison Mohr says police respond to a handful of reports each year relating to mental health crises on Mission Bridge.

According to a UBC study, the 33-metre Mission Bridge contains no suicide prevention measures. The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says stakeholders have not raised a need to address suicide deterrents on Mission Bridge.

“An engineering analysis would have to be done to see if safety fencing or other similar deterrents could be added to Mission Bridge. The addition of such fencing may be challenging due to the bridge’s limited width and narrow shoulders,” the ministry said.

Ashton says the ministry has informed the Crisis Centre that many existing bridges can’t bear the weight of additional barriers.

“There isn’t interest from the minister of transport to reassess suicide barriers based on new technology that’s out there with lighter-weight materials,” Ashton said.

In a statement to the Mission Record, the ministry says the current policy (in effect since 2013) requires that all new bridge designs include safety barriers on either side of the bridge.

In addition to suicide barriers, the Crisis Centre advocates for other measures such as crisis phones on bridges. The ministry also noted the phones as a possible suicide deterrent for Mission Bridge.

The phones have been implemented on several Lower Mainland bridges, though the Crisis Centre prefers suicide barriers because of their effectiveness.

“The two together can be quite helpful,” Ashton said. “Bridges are meant to be safe. They’re meant to be safe for pedestrians and motorists. You need to ensure safety is in place for folks who are in a mental health crisis.”

Black says most systems in B.C. are currently set up to detect people in moments of crisis. However, a lack of resources for those who aren’t in crisis, but struggling, can allow problems to fester and escalate into suicidal ideation.

“There needs to be a lot more of an investment in earlier prevention and support for people so that they don’t get to that point,” Black says.

Access to primary healthcare is also a hurdle for suicide prevention, with psychiatrists who work at clinics often full according to Black. He says systemic issues like poverty also contribute to suicide.

The Mission Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centre offers services such as assessment, treatment, therapy, crisis information and peer support.

The Fraser Health Crisis Line can be reached at 604-951-8855 or 1-877-820-7444.


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Dillon White

About the Author: Dillon White

I joined the Mission Record in November of 2022 after moving to B.C. from Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
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