Monday, September 14, 2009

Suicidal Tendencies

One can blame Metro for many things--and we do--but when someone throws themselves in front of a train, as apparently happened yesterday on the Red Line, Metro, particularly the operator, is a victim.

It's hard to imagine the feelings an operator faces after such an incident, and they appear to be happening with greater regularity, with five, by our count, in the past six months.

According to this article, "a commuter rail engineer will see as many as 20 [suicides] in his [25-year] career."

Seems a little high, but one would be enough to potentially cause some serious mental anguish.

The article says that "
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 112 people nationwide killed themselves using buses, trains and subways in 2002, a tiny percentage of the approximately 30,000 suicides each year."

In Germany, the article says, there were 18 transit related suicide attempts a week.

One reason suicidal people might pick trains is that there's a 90 percent "success" rate, according to the article.
We asked Metro how it treats operators who've been involved in these kinds of incidents. They said "each incident is unique to the individual train or bus operator. They meet with a counselor from our Employee Assistance Program who then determines with the employee what the proper course of action for that employee is. Some employees may choose to come back to work the next day, others may require additional counseling and therapy."

Do you think three's anything Metro can do to prevent further suicides?

Other items:
Should Metro take a hint from VRE? (WaPo)
Board members learn from Labor Day closings (Examiner)

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Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to the operator, however Metro's reaction was once again disorganized at best. Red line trains were reported to be single tracking and not stopping at Chinatown or Metro Center. Of course what Metro says it is doing and what it actually does are far different.

Instead trains were stopped and offloaded at Judiciary Square. A single Metrobus was provided to then shuttle the entire train load to subsequent stations. Riders were informed of this not by the multiple announcements over the intercom system or the announcement boards on the platforms, rather a metro employee walked about halfway down the platform and saw riders milling around after about five minutes and said, "if y'all are waiting for a train there won't be one. You need to go upstairs and take the bus."

I had an impatient two year old with me. We were not going to be able to get on the one bus they provided with the dozens of people coming off the train.

Michael said...

Toronto Transit had a program to improve response to suicides and attempts.

Their training improved employee ability to identify people who were there to commit suicide (typically crying, standing near or at the end of the platform, allowing one or more trains to go by inexplicably). Some people set down their belongings or partially undress, etc.

The training also used guidance from the mental health community for approaching people that appear to be in the system for purposes of committing suicide. Employees cited that it was helpful to know that approaching someone with concern was not likely to "send them over the edge", and that approaching people directly, by saying "are you here to commit suicide" was more effective than asking a less direct question like, "you're not going to do anything, are you?"

The link is worth a read. Note: I am not a mental health professional and this should not be considered advice for how to approach a person that might be at risk for suicide.

Dan Franzen said...

Only in theory. If the system had a setup similar to Tokyo's, where there were are barriers along the platform edge with openings that line up with the train's doors, that would make it a lot more difficult. But we'd need a system that consistently lined up the doors with the openings.

Brian said...

Dan, I had the same thought, but... we can't even get these operators to remember how many cars they're running with. Probably not going to work too well.

I'd be interested in seeing the suicide rates in other systems to see how their measures work compared to Metro. Maybe 'interested' isn't the word I'm looking for, actually.

Joshua Davis said...

Not that it is Metro's or any government agencies job to prevent suicide, but Metro should introduce a suicide prevention training programing like Toronto did:

Dan Franzen said...

Well, in theory such a system would not need operator input. I agree that the operators often seem to have no idea of what they're doing. Automate it and include triple redundancy. If other cities can do it, we should be able to. In theory.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday at Navy Memorial a guy tried to jump in front of the approaching train. Between the response of the passengers on the platform and the station manager he was stopped. The station manager was able to stop the train from coming into the station and moved the guy away from the edge (following him along the platform and talking to him.) I was impressed with the station manager because he knew exactly what to do and saved a life. Metro occasionally gets some things right.

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