Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Final Question On Suicides In National Parks

Do you believe the park and the rangers do an effective job of attempting to limit the number of suicides on the parkway?

This is hard to quantify.  I do not believe that the National Park Service is responsible for the mental health of our citizens.  On the other hand there are numerous accounts of experiences in parks having a positive effect on a person’s attitude and perspectives in life’s challenges.  Who knows how many people have been aided or lives changed in their battles against depression or despair by an encounter with a place of beauty and solitude.  I contacted many people during my career who were in the park to escape their problems, to think, and to bring themselves back to a more grounded existence.  This seemed to work for them.

In some jurisdictions, specific locations have been closed or restricted to the public by the placing of fences or barricades and nets under bridges to prevent or deter suicides.  These physical barriers may be affective in an urban area but are intrusive and disruptive to visitor experiences in historic or natural areas.  I am unconvinced that in most cases such measures in National Parks would deter a determined individual from attempting to ending their life.

I reached out for input from other readers as to measures taken to prevent or deter suicides.  In most examples park rangers are aware of areas that have a history of suicide incidents.  Patrol of these areas is generally increased with attention to persons who show indicators of depression or unusual behavior.  Readers have also encouraged use of the Critical Incident Stress Management and Debriefing practices for responders.

One interesting idea comes from Japan where signs are placed at locations where suicides have developed a pattern urging individuals to think about their families and includes a telephone number for suicide hotlines.  I have never seen this approach in National Parks.

With the latest wave of budget cuts and the restrictions that they impose on park managers, the number of park employees will most likely be reduced.  The shortage of funds will also impact the ability of park rangers to intercede in a variety of emergency situations due to staffing reductions and accompanying cost saving measures such as lowering fuel consumption and mileage restrictions on vehicles and diminishing quantity and quality of training and refreshers.

Park employees are aware of the potential for persons to attempt suicide in our National Parks.  Being alert for the indicators of an individual in mental distress and is the best way that park staffs can be prepared to help others.

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