Metro's public suicide prevention campaign months away

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Photo - Metro is training train operators and station managers on how to spot potentially suicidal riders. (Examiner file photo)
Metro is training train operators and station managers on how to spot potentially suicidal riders. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's planned suicide intervention hotline won't begin for another few months, the latest delay in the transit agency's nearly three-year-old pledge to fight suicides-by-train even as the death toll mounts.

The agency has been plagued with riders using the system's trains, and even parking garages, to kill themselves. In the latest case, a 65-year-old Montgomery Village man killed himself midday Saturday by putting himself into the path of a Red Line train in Rockville. The man, whose name was not released, was the fourth suicide via a Metro train this year, not including several attempts that left riders with life-altering injuries, including an amputated foot.

Metro pledged in 2009 to fight the suicides, which cause delays plus traumatize train operators and fellow riders. But the plans have been slow to start, despite Metro commissioning a consultant report for about $70,000 and approving a $250,000 budget.

Need help?
The American Association of Suicidology says the best intervention comes before a person heads to the subway. The group urges friends, family and co-workers to take seriously warning signs that include:
» Increased alcohol or drug use
» No reason for living or lack of sense of purpose
» Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
» Withdrawal from friends, family and society
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's toll-free number, 800-273-TALK (8255), for direct help or guidance on how to intervene.
Suicides by Metro train in 2012
» Jan. 6: A 56-year-old Alexandria woman jumped into the path of a train at the Van Dorn Street stop during the morning rush.
» March 8: A 52-year-old Northwest D.C. man killed himself by jumping into the path of a train at Foggy Bottom, while the transit agency's board was discussing its suicide prevention plans on the system.
» March 19: A man died after hit by a Red Line train at White Flint about 10:15 a.m.
» Saturday: A 65-year-old Montgomery Village man killed himself at the Rockville station by getting into the path of the train at 11:17 a.m.

The transit agency is training station managers and train operators in how to spot -- and reach out to -- potentially suicidal riders.

"To date, 60 percent of station managers have gone through the training, and we are on target to have train operators and station managers completed by January," said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart.

But a planned public education campaign has faced hurdles. In January, Metro said signs showing a crisis hot line number would be posted by April.

The agency said it took longer than expected to forge an agreement with a mental health provider that would support the call center, though.

The agreement has been finalized, Stewart said, so development of signage and an awareness campaign will start shortly. But he said it would not become public until the "next few months."

However, Metro moved quickly last spring to start a campaign to fight sexual harassment on the system after complaints it wasn't taking the crimes seriously enough, with posters and an email reporting tool established within about a month.

With that campaign, Metro took some posters designed for Boston's MBTA and tailored them to the D.C. area.

Interestingly, Boston's MBTA, San Francisco's BART, NJ Transit and Toronto's transit agency also have tried various efforts including posters telling riders where to get help if feeling suicidal.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner