November 26, 2009

The Toronto Transit Commission has been ordered to release subway suicide statistics from 1998 to 2007 under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. A local media outlet made a request to the TTC one year ago for statistics related to the number of people who take their lives annually on the subway. The TTC denied that request citing health and safety concerns, and the contagion, or copycat, effect suicide reporting may pose, particularly as it relates to the method of suicide. On appeal, the IPC ordered the statistics released.

The TTC has complied with that order and is now making those statistics available to the public. Below, are subway suicide incidents and attempts from 1998 to 2007.

Year

Suicide Attempt Total

1998

12

13

25

1999

22

4

26

2000

21

12

33

2001

12

17

29

2002

16

11

27

2003

17

9

26

2004

15

8

23

2005

14

6

20

2006

8

11

19

2007

13

9

22

The TTC’s concern over releasing statistics or discussing suicide and suicide attempts on the subway is rooted in medical literature and evidence that suggests a vulnerable person with suicidal tendencies may choose to end their life if they read or hear about such an incident in the media. News organizations have long adhered to a practice of responsible reporting, including the omission of suicide method, and only reporting death by suicide when the victim is well-known or is otherwise newsworthy, or it is a murder-suicide.

The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention has published media guidelines to assist news organizations with the sensitive matter of suicide reporting. It can be found at www.casp-acps.ca/publications.asp.

With these statistics now public, it is important to understand what the TTC does on the matter of prevention, including recognizing distressed persons in subway stations, the actions taken to minimize suicide attempts, and the supports in place for its employees when a suicide or suicide attempt does occur.

Over the past 11 years, the TTC has embarked on several initiatives, including working closely with St. Michael’s Hospital and Trillium Health Centre, among others, in an effort to help prevent suicide and support employees, particularly subway operators, involved in these traumatic incidents.

Frontline TTC employees – operators, supervisors and special constables – are provided with training and education to help identify people who may be considering taking their own life at subway stations. They learn intervention techniques and have several community and mental health resources at their disposal to assist those who may need help.

Called the “Gatekeeper Program,” employees have been trained to identify people who may be distressed or exhibiting at-risk behaviour in a subway station. As well, TTC employees are trained in how to best interact with distressed individuals they encounter on platforms.

Of equal concern to the TTC is post-traumatic distress and other possible long-term effects, such as clinical depression, its employees may suffer after an incident. The TTC offers counselling to its employees and is embarking on other efforts, such as peer support, for those workers who have recently endured trauma. The TTC’s goal is to assist its employees in their recovery as much as possible. To this end, the TTC has been part of a research study aimed at developing best practices interventions for acute psychological trauma.

The TTC embraces awareness efforts on the issues of suicide and mental health, and will continue to work with the medical community to ensure the transit system remains safe for everyone. The TTC feels strongly that understanding prevention efforts and the effects suicides have on employees is more important than stark statistics. The TTC will continue its protocol of not communicating suicide incidents to the media when they occur.

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