Can signs of hope stop a suicide? Coalition works to make it happen

The Gig Harbor & Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition is working to put 20 signs on the Tacoma Narrows bridges.
The Gig Harbor & Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition is working to put 20 signs on the Tacoma Narrows bridges.

By Bob Anderson’s count, nine people are known to have died after jumping off the Tacoma Narrows bridges in the past five years.

The most recent was two weeks ago.

“If there were nine different deaths at an intersection, somebody would do something about it,” said Anderson, a facilitator with the Gig Harbor & Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Someone is about to.

The coalition is working to put 20 signs on the bridges, both eastbound and west, in the hope they will stop people from taking their own lives. Another five signs will be placed in parks and public places around Gig Harbor.

The signs say things such as “You’re not alone – make the call” and “Life is worth living there is help” and many others. The suicide prevention phone number will also be on all the signs.

“We wanted to push people to give hope and reasons to live and a number to call if they were thinking of suicide,” Anderson said.

The county is making the signs, which Anderson hopes will be hung by Monday (Nov. 5).

The project began in January, when Anderson was walking through Portland and saw suicide prevention signs on a bridge.

“I thought, ‘That’s a great idea,’” he said.

Anderson, whose son killed himself when he was 20, contacted the state Department of Transportation and was told in August that the agency would post the signs.

“Signs cause people to slow down and think, but they don’t always stop them,” Anderson said. “But we also know if people slow down and think, they may not act.”

The coalition also is pushing for barriers or netting to be put on or under the bridge to keep someone from jumping.

The coalition is requesting Governor Inslee to include funding for netting and barriers in his transportation budget, Anderson said.

The coalition hopes to have signs up before a speaker comes to talk on Monday with Gig Harbor students and others about suicide awareness and prevention.

The speaker, Kevin Hines, tried to kill himself when he was 19 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He was one of 30 people known to have survived the fall.

“He’s really dynamic and energetic and we think he will resonate with the kids,” said the coalition’s community outreach director, Kathy Weymiller. “His message is: ‘Be here tomorrow. One foot in front of the other. You got this.’”

Hines will speak at the free community event at 6:30 p.m. at Peninsula High School, 14105 Purdy Drive NW, Gig Harbor.

Weymiller, who also works with the Peninsula School District, said her job involves talking with parents when a child takes his or her life.

She said posting the signs on the bridge is a great first step.

“You just want to protect everyone from that pain, and you can’t do it,” Weymiller said. “But if we can prevent one (death), it’s all worth it.”