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Middletown, Portland install suicide hotline signs on Arrigoni Bridge

Hartford Courant - 11/9/2018

Nov. 09--Suicide prevention signs have been installed on the Arrigoni Bridge, offering a message of safety to people who are considering taking their own life.

Middletown and Portland have each hung signs on their sides of the bridge displaying the hotline numbers to call or text in a crisis. Also shown is a web address to the state's suicide prevention effort, preventsuicidect.org.

The blue signs say "THERE IS HOPE, THERE IS HELP" and are displayed along the sidewalks running along both sides of the Arrigoni. People can call the 24-hour free help line at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.

Mayor Daniel Drew announced in September that he had received confirmation from the state Department of Transportation that they would be adding safety fencing to the structure, and would also allow the towns to hang the signs.

Andrea Duarte, behavioral health program manager at the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said health professionals have been meeting with the DOT and some of its contractors to talk about high-risk areas in the state that could benefit from suicide prevention measures.

Reducing access to areas like bridges and railroad crossings has been a priority, but letting people know about the resources available to them is just as important, she said.

"Overall, barriers are going to prevent someone from going over the bridge. You prevent someone from making the attempt in the first place," Duarte said. "The signage is really big, too. When someone is in that frame of mind, a literal sign can be taken as a figurative sign. Just happening upon the sign is enough to say 'The universe is telling me I shouldn't do this.'"

Fencing will be installed as part of a $37 million reconstruction of the "approaches" to the bridge -- the elevated roadway that connects local streets to the main bridge span.

The center section of the famous double-arched bridge was rebuilt in 2012, and fencing will be added there too. Drew said the safety fence will be similar to measures in place on New York'sTappan Zee Bridge.

While the DOT is still planning out the major work to begin next year, signs are a low-cost and potentially high-impact option, officials said.

Middletown public works employees installed two signs Friday morning. Posting them for people who might be considering harming themselves had a special meaning for Joe Barone, the department's paint and traffic supervisor, whose close friend died in a suicide on the bridge.

"I lost a good friend of mine here," Barone said Friday morning after bolting in the second marker. "I come up here and I've got chills right now. It means a lot to me."

He said the work gave him hope that other people's families won't have to go through the same pain his friend's family did.

"I think this is a good start, hopefully it can prevent a lot of people from doing things they really can't control. I'm 100 percent for these signs," Barone said. "If this can save one life, we've done our job."

Safety measures became an urgent topic in 2015 after Tony Moreno threw his 7-month-old son Aaden from the bridge then jumped over the railing as police arrived on the scene.

Drew requested a meeting with the state after Aaden's death, and he said the city and the DOT have been working on solutions since then.

He said Friday that summer intern Carmine Grippo put in a lot of work earlier this year to finalize the agreement between the towns and the DOT. The plans also required coordination with Portland officials.

"These signs are a reminder to people that their lives are important and that there's someone they can turn to in a moment of despondency," Drew said. "If it saves one life, then it's worth it."

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(c)2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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