Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about, but it’s one Metrolinx wants to bring to the forefront after deaths along its tracks have already surpassed yearly levels.
The GTA’s regional transit agency wants everyone to know that it has a system in place to help those in distress.
So far, there have been 14 deaths by suicide across Metrolinx’s 500 kilometres of track. Usually, in any given year there are 12 to 15.
“This of course is very concerning for all of us,” said Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx’s senior manager of media and issues.
“We’ve been stepping up our efforts for a long time. One thing is education.”
Officers trained to spot a person in distress
Metrolinx’s special constables go through extensive training to spot GO train users who could be in distress. Some of the things they look for are unusual behaviour, such as pacing on the platform or loitering. When something seems off, the officers approach the person.
“They engage in conversation,” said Bill Grodzinski, the director of transit safety. “They ask the question, ‘Are you okay?’ and an extension of that question is, ‘Are you thinking about committing suicide?'”
Grodzinski says every week his officers tell him that they were able to prevent someone from trying to kill themselves. But most of the fatalities happen along the tracks were there are no special constables, so instead there are signs with a helpline number.
Many deaths are prevented
The line, run by Connex Ontario, is province-wide and accessible 24 hours a day. Anne Counter, Connex Ontario’s director of information, says the organization provides everything from information on where to find the best mental health or addiction treatment in the province to over the phone crisis counselling.
The organization, funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Health, says it gets about 300 to 400 calls a day.
“Staff engage in conversation to ascertain what kind of information a person may be looking for, whether it’s for themselves or for a family member,” said Counter.
If someone is thinking about committing suicide and they’re near Metrolinx’s tracks, Connex Ontario operators try to ease the person’s mind, help them get in contact with the proper authorities and also let Metrolinx know where the person is so the train can stop in time.
There is also a treatment plan in place for Metrolinx staff if a fatality occurs.
“They are immediately removed from service and and there’s mandatory debriefing and counselling that they have to participate in,” said Aikins.
Metrolinx isn’t the only agency that has suicide prevention measures in place. The Toronto Transit Commission has specially trained officers to spot and de-escalate situations.
This year there have been eight fatalities and many others that were successfully stopped, the TTC says.