Suicide Bridge Series: Portland, Oregon’s Vista Bridge

An encouraging message of hope is left on the Vista Bridge

An encouraging message of hope is left on the Vista Bridge

The city of Portland, Oregon has one of the highest suicide rates in our country. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicides among those aged 35-64 increased 49% in Oregon from 1999-2010, compared to the overall national increase of 28%. Oregon has 709 verified suicides since the start of 2012. From 2004 through 2011, 13 people were recorded to have committed suicide on the Vista Bridge. These are tough statistics to grapple with. Numbers fail, however, to put into personal perspective the individual tragedies experienced by suicide survivors such as those of the family of a 15 year-old girl, Marina Hamblin-Rock, who put her destiny into her own hands after being bullied. Her parents, her brother, her family and friends now have to suffer the heartbreak that encompasses those left behind after a suicide. They may never know what her reasons were, what compelled her to jump from the Vista Bridge. We do, as a society, need to be asking ourselves, is how many suicides could be prevented if barriers were put in place on these easily assessable bridges.

Who built this bridge? We did. Who maintains this bridge? We do. Out of necessity, we have paved down dirt to roads, we have littered the sky with buildings, we have built bridges. It’s our duty as neighbors and fellow human beings to take responsibility and make our communities safer. That might be costly – the taxpayer already puts out so much to tear up roads that may not need repairing or pay township employees their hefty salaries. Well, then, we need to get our priorities in order. I’m not sorry to Mr. Commissioner, Mrs. Mayor, if they have to cancel their vacations to put a suicide barrier in place on the Vista Bridge. I won’t apologize for demanding safety.

A permanent sign heralds help against a temporary solution.

A permanent sign heralds help against a temporary solution.

Some will say it’s a waste of money – that suicide is a decision to act and it is a decision that will be accomplished by whatever means available. Maybe, some may very well be right. Yet, the means are the “how” not the “why”. If for just a second, just a moment, they get to that bridge and have to turn back because it’s not so easy to jump… maybe that one fleeting obstacle in that person’s decision is enough to make them cool down, double back, reconsider.

Others will say… that money would be better spent funneled into mental health programs. Yes, so true! But why can’t we have both? Why can’t we have the seatbelt AND the airbag? If we already built these bridges, if we already spend the money to keep them standing why isn’t adding a suicide barrier considered part of the maintenance work? Why are a dollar sign and a number enough to make people click their tongues and not see eye-to-eye? Why is something so foolish like money, which has no concrete value besides what we believe it has, enough for us to lose our faith in and love for our neighbors?

And still others will protest that the Vista Bridge’s status on the National Register of Historic Places excuses it from any alterations. Its appearance cannot be permanently changed without approval under the National Historic Preservation Act. So.,. what? Because the bridge won’t be “pretty” to look at anymore we can’t improve upon it? Because it’s a part of history we can’t do anything about the health hazards it poses? Suicide is permanent. It’s a part of our human history, too, and it’s not pretty either.

An artist's rendition of a permanent suicide barrier on the Vista Bridge

An artist’s rendition of a permanent suicide barrier on the Vista Bridge

Would 15 year-old Marina Hamblin-Rock have considered therapy first? It’s hard to know. It’s hard to know if she even knew she was depressed. It’s hard to know if she was aware that counseling was available. What teenager considers those options, much less a child who was already being bullied. If counseling were available and she knew of it, perhaps she may have thought it’d make her a bigger target for bullying.

The cold hard truth is what we know now that in retrospect we disregarded.  A suicide barrier is absolutely necessary. The Portland Transportation Bureau needs to get their priorities straight. The Vista Bridge absolutely needs a permanent suicide barrier. Temporary just won ‘t do. It’s just that simple.

For More Information:

1. Oregon Partnership Lines for Life
5100 SW Macadam Avenue, Suite 400
Portland, OR 97239
p 503.244.5211 or 800.282.7035
f 503.244.5506

2. Gabrielle Waltrip’s In Respect for My Cousin Youtube Memorial

3. Friends of the Vista Bridge        

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