April 4, 2011

In Public Forums, Psychiatry Prof Explains Benefit of Bridge Barriers

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At two open forums Monday, the University gathered mental health experts to address various concerns about the seven proposed barriers for bridges on and off campus, including how resources will be devoted to other forms of suicide prevention and how to prevent the bridges from overshadowing the natural beauty of the area.

The panel members — who included mental health experts and design analysts — defended the decision to build the barriers as a necessary step toward saving lives both at Cornell and throughout Ithaca.

“For me this is an issue of values,” said Prof. Eric Caine ’69, psychiatry, University of Rochester. “What lengths do we go to protect out community, our neighbors and our friends, and how do we balance this with our own wishes to access the environment?”

Caine also emphasized that Ithaca is the “one place in the country, if not the world, where it may be possible to change the regional rate of suicides based on this one method of prevention,” although he also said that he “never found these bridges to be aesthetic wonders.”

Some community members voiced concerns about what the University is doing to address the psychological issues underlying suicides.

One local resident, who has lived near the Fall Creek Suspension Bridge for 24 years, said he had seen several instances of people jumping from the bridge. He called the suicides “the end result of something else … but we talk about it without any analysis of what actually caused it.”

Panel member Dr. Greg Eells, associate director of Gannett Health Services, and director of counseling and psychological services, responded that while clinical services that may prevent suicide are important, they are not sufficient.

“The issue of means restriction is the piece we had really been missing until this past spring,” Eells said. “[The bridge barriers] are an initiative that everyone on the Tompkins County Mental Health Board supports.”

At the end of the discussion, Caine said he recognized the significance of the forum and the opportunity to engage in conversations with community members about the issue.

“There’s an openness in Ithaca now, and in the Cornell community, to talk about a painful and challenging problem” Caine said. “Whatever you think about the barriers, I applaud you for continuing to talk about the issue.”

Past presentations by the architects and preschematic designs of the barriers are on the Cornell Facilities Services website.

Original Author: Liz Camuti