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Suicide survivor’s plea for a safer Archway Bridge

PUBLISHED: 06:00 02 December 2010

Archway Bridge spans Archway Road in Highgate

Archway Bridge spans Archway Road in Highgate

Archant

A WOMAN who miraculously survived a suicidal plunge head first off a 40-foot bridge has appealed for tougher safety measures on Archway Bridge.

The 31-year-old has spoken out following the deaths of three men at the bridge since October - which have added to the landmark’s unenviable reputation as Suicide Bridge.

She has told her harrowing story in a bid to reveal how strongly worded signs on the bridge may reach people in the depths of suicidal despair.

The woman did not want to be named but the Gazette has called her Sarah. She said: “The reason I wanted to contact you was that when I jumped I looked quite determined. There was no dramatic want for someone to stop me, I went up there and jumped off.

“But if there had been a sign, something naming what I was going to do, it might have pierced through the suicidal stupor. I don’t know if it would have stopped me, I can’t ever know that, but that interruption gives the possibility of a change of plan.”

Sarah grew up in the south west of England and had a long history of mental health problems including depression, anxiety and bipolar-like symptoms, and she had felt suicidal for many months before she tried to end her life in November 2001 aged 22.

On that day she fled her home town and drove for hours before reaching a bridge near Bristol.

Sarah said: “I thought if I just keep moving eventually I’ll be able to stop, I was driving and driving and then I realised I can’t keep running from myself. I felt hopelessness, very cut off in a different state, and at that moment I looked up and I was going under a bridge and I had this idea ‘I’m going to do it’.

“I ran to the top of the bridge and climbed over and I heard this voice in my head ‘no, no, no’. But I over rode it and said ‘yes’ and I let go and went head first. I thought that would be it and it would be over with, but I landed at the bottom in the other direction on my feet and slowly fell backwards.”

Sarah plummeted 40 feet onto tarmac below and the violence of her actions hit her as she lay on the floor.

“I just looked up and there was concrete and sky and I just thought ‘what have you done?’” she said. “The horror and the sense of how alone I’d made myself, that was the most horrific moment.”

Sarah shattered both her heels and broke her back in three places in the plunge and she was in a wheel chair for three months before moving onto crutches and learning to walk again. It took nine months before she mustered the courage to “try and live again”.

Nine-years later she lives in supported accommodation in Crouch End and is studying for an Open University degree.

But Sarah believes Archway Bridge may hold a morbid fascination for people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“If you hear about people going off the bridge and they succeed and kill themselves, it can be quite a fantastical place,” she said. “It can have quite a fantastical quality to it.”

She believes the need for strongly worded signs and a safety net is now more vital then ever after the recent deaths.

“It’s really important, especially on a bridge that’s become a landmark - literally Suicide Bridge,” said Sarah. “When something’s received that kind of status then you have a responsibility to acknowledge what it has become. I think you have a responsibility to the people that have died and to the families to try and reach them.”

She added: “Even if someone goes over you don’t know at what point someone might change their mind - they might change their mind mid-fall. At some times, people need saving from themselves.”

Haringey Council is responsible for maintaining the bridge.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: “After consultation with interested parties Haringey Council paid for a phone box to be installed at the bridge several years’ ago. BT have been asked to make sure it is maintained.

“We are also happy for the Samaritans to put up additional signs and a council officer is liaising with them about this.

“Funding permitting, we are always willing to look at how we might help prevent suicides at the bridge.”

* Organisations offering psychotherapy and counselling include:

Mind In Haringey, 020 8340 2474, www.mind.org.uk/help/mind_in_your_area/149

The Arbours Association, 020 8340 7646, www.arboursassociation.org

The Philadelphia Association, 020 7794 2652, www.philadelphia-association.co.uk


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