Today’s Opinion: Train suicide

POSTED: 05/19/11 12:25 PM

Here is a nasty little problem we won’t have to deal with in St. Maarten: train suicide. On average, four times a week somebody throws him- or herself in front of a train in the Netherlands.  The risk is higher in the big cities and in the vicinity of mental health care facilities, psychiatrist Cor van Houwelingen discovered.

The drive to prevent suicide is strong in the Netherlands, and ProRail, the company that operates the railways in the Netherlands has picked up on Van Houwelingen’s study that pinpointed sixty high risk locations. ProRail will secure those locations with fences, cameras and flashing lights designed to scare people away.

Van Houwelingen’s research shows that two-third of the people who opt for death by train have psychiatric problems. “They are very sick and they act impulsively,” the psychiatrist says.

There is some safety in numbers, Van Houwelingen says. The less people commit suicide, the less people will throw themselves in front of a train. Train suicide accounts for 12 percent of all suicides in the Netherlands.

Van Houwelingen says that it is therefore important to make committing suicide as difficult as possible. Psychological help is one of the tools to help suicidal citizens. Along the Dutch railways billboards have been erected with the text I listen and the phone number 113online, a help line for people with suicidal thoughts.

That ProRail is acting on Van Houwelingen’s research results is not only driven by concern over the people who commit suicide. The train suicides also cause traumas to train drivers, passengers and bystanders. After a train suicide, traffic on the rails is out for an average of 2.5 hours, affecting thousands of travelers.

It remains remarkable though that the measures taken by ProRail do nothing to tackle the root causes of suicide. They seem merely designed to guarantee less interference on the rails for the thousands of passengers the company transports every day.


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