AManda Dodsworth no longer crosses the MacKay Bridge. Not since last spring. “I cry a lot when I do that,” she says. In late March 2021, one of his closest childhood friends took his own life by jumping off the bridge that sits 55 meters above the northern end of Halifax Harbour.
Two bridges have spanned the harbor for decades: the “old bridge” – the Angus L. Macdonald – since 1955, and the “new bridge” – the A. Murray MacKay, since 1970. Neither is is really new, and they show it. . The steel bridges are weathered and rusty, crossed by more than 100,000 vehicles on average per day, or more than 26 million crossings per year. But despite the cosmopolitan interconnectedness the bridges bring to HRM, they each harbor tragic stories.
In 2008, The Coast published an article about Adam Cashen’s death by suicide on the Macdonald Bridge. The following year, the Halifax Harbor Bridge Commission (HHB) announced the installation of nine-foot-tall, million-dollar suicide barriers along the length of the Macdonald.
But the same thing never happened on the MacKay.
This is partly because, although there is a footbridge across the Macdonald, no one is allowed to cross the MacKay. But, says Dodsworth, “when they put the barriers on the Macdonald, they didn’t expect people to abandon their vehicles on the MacKay to jump. But we know it happens.
A few weeks after her friend passed away, Dodsworth began reaching out. First to a councilman, then to HHB. “I was fidgeting trying to grab something because I was crying so hard,” she says. “What can I grasp to make this grief feel like it has a purpose?”
Jhe original purpose was to try to install some sort of barrier. “The MacKay’s ramps are like, my size,” Dodsworth says. When his friend jumped, “the people on deck said he hadn’t broken his stride.”
But the bridge commission quickly responded that the structure could not support any excess weight. He said the same thing in 2004 and again in 2008 before the Macdonald Bridge barriers were added.
“I’m like, okay, what if it’s not metal, what if it’s netting and it just goes up 12 feet?” said Dodsworth.
She began corresponding with HHB’s communications representative at the time, Alison MacDonald, to find solutions. And while the response was sympathetic, Dodsworth began to feel “a bit, ‘it’s not that big of a deal’, downplaying ‘it doesn’t happen as often as you think.'”
However, the occurrence of suicide attempts or completions related to the MacKay Bridge cannot be identified, as the HHB refuses to release this information. Despite a 2019 ruling by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner that ruled that the commission must release general statistical information about suicides with identifying details removed, the information has still never been released. made public.
Dodsworth continued to communicate with HHB throughout the spring of 2021. After a few weeks of discussing what couldn’t be done – “they don’t allow memorials on the bridge because they don’t want people who might be in some level of distress see that and think maybe that’s my way out too” – the bridge commission accepted a suggestion to add suicide prevention decals to the MacKay.
“There will be several closures of the MacKay Bridge this summer, a perfect time to put the decals on the bridge,” MacDonald wrote in Dodsworth on June 10.
The decals would be raised and textured. “So if someone touched the railing, they would feel a little different than they would expect with the metal railing,” Dodsworth explains.
But in early September, Dodsworth emailed HHB for a progress update only to find that MacDonald had left the post and a new communications manager, Steven Proctor, had taken his place.
“I started from scratch,” says Dodsworth. Proctor told him that HHB had never confirmed that decals would be installed, despite his email screenshots proving it.
“Essentially he insinuated that I was lying,” Dodsworth says.
DDefeated, Dodsworth halted her efforts for the better part of a year, until last March when she emailed HHB again just after the first anniversary of her friend’s death.
“He called me back a week later and said, ‘we tried to stick some decals on and they didn’t stick well,'” she says.
Finally, in mid-May, the decals – and Dodsworth’s plea – finally stuck.
Proctor confirmed to The Coast that HHB had recently applied six 12ft decals along the MacKay’s mid-span. The safety message was created with help from the Nova Scotia Chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, but Proctor says photos can’t be provided because “we don’t want people interrupting the traffic flows watch them”.
Decals have one of two messages, either “You are not alone. You matter. Help is out there” or “You matter. You can survive beyond this place. It’s okay to seek help,” followed by the mental health hotline number and 911.
“That sounds really good,” Dodsworth says. “But they produced six 12-foot decals, three for each side of the bridge. The span of the bridge is over 1,200 feet and they produced 36 feet of decals on each side.
Dodsworth offered to raise funds for more decals to be printed, but HHB did not accept the offer to extend this small first step.
“The second stage would be the panels coming out from under the balustrade, so if you looked over the balustrade you would see these panels. The third step would be the establishment of safety nets.
She knows it won’t prevent all suicide deaths, but it might help someone. “The goal is not to trick ourselves into thinking that we can save everyone, because that’s not realistic,” she explains. “But if we give people a moment to pause, then it’s either a chance for another human to connect with them or a chance for them to say to themselves, ‘wait, what the hell am I do? I don’t really want that right now.'”
If his friend had this chance, he might still be here. “How can we take what happened to him and turn it into hope and care for someone else?” Dodsworth asks. “If he had to climb, would he have done it? Or would he have had time for someone to stop him?
Although she knows the subject evokes difficult emotions, Dodsworth wants suicide to be talked about more openly. “People who feel that way feel even more alone, because they feel like no one is talking about it,” she says. “We can’t talk about suicide, and it’s not going away. Even when we talk about it, it doesn’t go away. But ignoring it doesn’t change anything either.
If you are having difficulty, call the Mental Health Crisis Line toll-free anytime at 1-888-429-8167.