Suicide is one of the most significant public health threats among young people today. Dr. Madelyn Gould, a professor of epidemiology in Columbia University’s psychiatry department, is one of the country’s leading experts in suicide prevention and causes. The view from her office overlooking the George Washington Bridge is an enviable one, albeit a reminder of something deeply troubling for Dr. Gould. In the past seven years, 93 people have died at the bridge despite dozens of signs and several telephones on it linking callers to trained crisis hotline counselors – tactics supported by Dr. Gould’s research. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plan to erect a safety barrier on the bridge but the project will not be completed until 2024. In light of a well-documented public health problem, Dr. Gould believes this is an inexcusably slow response and that the timeframe should be moved up.
Between 1999 and 2014 nationwide suicide rates have risen 24 percent and suicide is the leading cause of death among those under 34. “Suicide contagion is real, and the language and publicity surrounding deaths by suicide concern me immensely,” Dr. Gould said during a recent interview. Much of her work involves removing the stigma surrounding suicide, and she is an outspoken advocate for directly asking young people about whether they are considering taking their lives. This New York Times article explores the grim-sounding field of suicidology and the important role of studying what causes, and prevents suicide. When it comes to prevention methods associated to the George Washington Bridge, for example, there is an obvious fix, “If a study came out that said 18 people were going to die on the bridge next year because of a mechanical issue, they’d shut it down and fix it. The solution to this issue is putting up a fence.” As the U.S. suicide rate surges to a 30-year high, such precautions take on heightened importance.