Provided by Prince William County
There is a bold, new, blue sign with white lettering on the Va. 123 Bridge where it crosses the Occoquan River. The sign is a lifeline for those considering suicide and provides the National Suicide Hotline number.
Prince William County Behavioral Health Wellness Supervisor Heather Martinsen said the process to get the sign placed at the bridge was a community effort. The effort included Cynthia Dudley, the executive director of Trillium Center Inc., which provides peer support to people with mental illness. Also involved was Victoria Graham, chief program officer at Action in the Community Through Service. Along with county officials, they saw the need for the sign and got together to make the installation happen. “It really was the community and professionals coming together and saying, ‘How do we solve this problem?'”
Graham said a word, or a sign, could be the thing that prevents someone from killing themselves. “The thought is that if someone had an intervention before they made that jump, either something or somebody that caught their eye to say, ‘There’s hope,’ it might be a deterrent.”
Promoting Access to Lifesaving Means Saves Lives
According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “promoting access to lifesaving means” at bridges, like signage or other public information, saves lives.
Martinsen said there are a few other such signs in the state; the group used an example of one in Fredericksburg. “We did some research about best practices around the country and tried to figure out what sign to put up. That sign is similar to one down at the Rappahannock River Bridge just outside of Fredericksburg.”
According to Occoquan Police Department records, there have been five incidents of people planning to jump off the Route 123 bridge over the last 10 years. Luckily, no one has gotten as far as attempting suicide.
Prince William County Emergency Services Supervisor with Community Services Andrea Hess said she knows of several interventions over the past couple of years. “We often get people who have been thwarted, or they haven’t actually attempted, but they’ve been up there. … [S]omeone called us, and we’ve been able to intervene and have them evaluated.”
Hess said that people will often give warning signs that they’re contemplating suicide. “We’ve had people take pictures of themselves, selfies, with the bridge in the background and text it to someone,” Hess said. “While there’s a difference in the attempt and what we call rehearsal behavior, the bridge was starting to become a popular site.”
Graham said she hopes others pick up on the signs and the practice of installing them goes statewide, which would work to prevent people from doing anything drastic. “Losing people to suicide is not OK.”
Martinsen said that there are resources available for those who are contemplating suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255. There is always someone on the line for you to talk with, day or night.