- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

NORTH BEND, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon county has obtained suicide call boxes after witnessing an alarming spike in the number of people attempting suicide at a popular bridge.

The 30-pound stainless steel boxes are equipped with a blue light that will glow once the sun goes down. Users press a button that immediately connects them with a 911 operator who will communicate with them through a speaker.

The boxes are in storage until the Oregon Department of Transportation and others decide how they should be installed. The boxes can’t be permanently fixed to the McCullough Bridge because it is a historic landmark.

It is hoped they will be installed before 2018, along with signs displaying suicide prevention hotlines.

“The boxes need to be seen, but not be an eyesore,” Eric Gleason, health promotion director of Coos Health and Wellness, told The World newspaper (https://bit.ly/2i6j6qI).

“It will be beneficial for everyone, from people who go to the bridge to commit suicide or for people who find themselves in an emergency,” he said. “It will be an overall benefit for our community, even though I hope they never have to be used.”

Gleason said there were four suicide attempts in 2015 and a dozen attempts in 2016. In years prior, it was common to have no more than one.

“It has become a problem and we don’t know why,” he said.

The idea for the boxes came from Gleason’s wife, Haley. Twice in the same week the couple found themselves in a traffic jam on the bridge that spans Coos Bay. When Gleason told her why, she asked why weren’t there phones on the bridge for those desperately in need.

Western Oregon Advanced Health donated $8,000 toward the project and Coos Health and Wellness also received $1,500 from Bandon High School.

In a previous interview about the boxes, North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman said there haven’t been many of these phone systems installed in Oregon. Most of the information he compiled came from elsewhere.

“I found it interesting there weren’t more in Oregon,” Kappelman said. “I thought they were everywhere.”

Kappelman said drug use, the economy and the failing mental health system are possible explanations for the increase in suicide attempts.

“For others, it’s simply despair and not knowing where to turn for help or thinking that there isn’t any help,” he said. “Interrupting that train of thought, particularly when they are so close to making that decision, is when we can make an impact.”

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Information from: The World, https://www.theworldlink.com

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