Monday, March 28, 2011

The Next Question On Suicides

Here is the next in a series of questions sent in by a college student on the subject of suicides in our National Parks and more specifically the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Do you know any measures being taken to prevent these suicides?

Suicide is a serious mental health issue facing this country.  Although as a Park Ranger I often felt like a counselor, park employees are not trained nor certified professionals in this field.  Many of the suicide incidents I have investigated involved patients of mental health professionals who were fighting depression and other issues for long periods of time.

Most Park Rangers are trained in emergency medical services and are prepared to provide initial physical treatment to victims of suicide attempts.

One lesson from my career is the realization that each human being is a vastly complex and unique entity that is not easily understood or influenced once determined on a specific course.  This has been confirmed by psychologist that I have worked with and makes the prevention of suicides once a person has made the final decision challenging and at times dangerous.

I am not aware of any specific steps designed to prevent suicides in parks.  The openness and accessibility of National Parks are some of the features that draw people to spend time there.

Law Enforcement Park Rangers are trained to deal with what is termed “deviant behavior.”  This includes persons suffering from depression and under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  Park Rangers are alert for signs of unusual conduct that would be clues that a person may be suicidal.  As a result of this training and awareness there have been numerous instances where Park Rangers have intervened and prevented a suicidal person from carrying out their plan. 

Here is a link to one such incident:

Park Rangers also call on other local resources when confronted by a person who may be intending suicide.  In some cases we called in mental health professionals and family members to talk people down so they can be disarmed or moved away from the edges of precipices.  

In some instances Park Rangers have risked their lives to save a person from taking their own life.  In one such instance a Park Ranger grabbed a person as they began to throw themselves off a bridge.  The tackle just came within a hairs breathe of them both going off the bridge to the river below.  In another case a Deputy Sheriff, a family member, and I maneuvered to take a loaded rifle away from a man sitting in the driver’s seat of a car with the barrel placed under his chin and a finger on the trigger.  We were ultimately successful, but the rifle did go off sending a bullet through the roof of the car and thankfully missing everyone present.

Unfortunately, as long as persons who are struggling with life to the point that they want to end it seek places where they may have fond memories or a place of peace and scenic beauty, they may be attracted to National Parks to complete their plans. 

Do any of my Park Ranger readers out there know of any specific steps being taken in their parks to prevent suicides?


  1. Really suicide is very big problem for society. It should be avoid. These suicide prevention tips may be very effective.

  2. Suicide is a serious issue on mental health that face this country. Despite the Park Ranger I felt often like a consultant, the park staff are not trained or certified professionals in this field.