In 2015, the Rhode Island Department of Health identified communities across the state with recognized health disparities. They created Health Equity Zones (HEZ) to promote healthy lifestyles, assure healthy child development, and create environments where healthy choices are easier to make. And though the Town of Bristol has many social services and community-based organizations, it also faces a unique challenge: suicide prevention.
“The Mount Hope Bridge sees its share of persons attempting to and completing suicide, and we wanted to present local, close-to-home initiatives and solutions to help those in our community,” says Lieutenant Steven St. Pierre of the Bristol Police Department.
Bristol’s former Parks and Recreation Director Walter Burke initially proposed posting a suicide prevention resource sign at the Mount Hope Bridge. That proposal prompted the first meeting of the Bristol HEZ Suicide Prevention Group in the fall of 2017. “From that initial idea, the group began meeting regularly and wanted to do a more broad-based community approach to suicide prevention in addition to the sign,” says Emily Spence, Bristol HEZ Coordinator.
Suicide and treatment for mental illness is a consistent problem in many towns that often goes unaddressed, notes Lieutenant St. Pierre, who works closely with the group. To open up the conversation and offer education, the Suicide Prevention Group has reached out to the community, young and old, in a myriad of ways, to spread their message, provide resources, and offer hope. They have distributed nearly 1,500 “Don’t Give Up” bracelets, dispersed more than 200 “Don’t Give Up” lawn signs, and have offered mental health first aid training — and that represents just some of their work. Then in May, the group’s original mission was finally achieved when they saw two permanent signs mounted on either side of the bridge, each of which provide critical, life-saving resources to anyone in need of help, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It was challenging in the beginning, but after a series of meetings involving various stakeholders in the community, we were able to get the signs posted with the support of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (TBA),” says Emily. And this may be just the beginning, she adds, as RITBA considers the idea of the signs becoming a model in the state for other bridge communities.