Suicide prevention signs along highway offer hope to motorists

More than a dozen suicide-prevention signs line the overpass that connects the 23 and 118 freeways.

The notices, installed by Caltrans in early June, hope to save lives along the 2.2-mile stretch of road that crosses above Los Angeles and Princeton avenues.

Since the overpass was constructed in 1993, 11 people have jumped off the two 100-foot-tall bridges, according to the Moorpark Police Department.

In 2014, after a 57-year-old Simi Valley man jumped from the overpass, the Moorpark City Council sent a letter to Caltrans asking them to safeguard the bridge with a fence.

“Unfortunately a fence is not feasible because these are curving bridges and a fence would block the driver’s line of sight,” said Michael Comeaux, public information officer for Caltrans District 7. “That’s not something that would be recommended from a traffic safety point of view. Plus, people would still find some way around a fence.”

Three years later, in December 2017, Caltrans held an environmental hearing on the future widening of the 118 Freeway between Los Angeles Avenue and Madera Road. During the meeting, Sean Corrigan, the city’s public works director, said Moorpark would like to address the safety of the overpass as part of the freeway-widening project.

In the months that followed, Caltrans decided to create signs for the bridges with help from Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, a nonprofit agency that provides mental health, substance abuse and suicide prevention services to Southern California communities.

“Caltrans reached out to us because they knew we had partnered with Metrolink to put up suicide-prevention signs along some of their train tracks,” Patricia

Speelman, division director of the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center, a training, research and crisis service center operated by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, wrote in an email to the Acorn.

Together, the agencies developed freeway-appropriate signs in English and Spanish with information about mental health resources and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number.

“We provided the language while Caltrans ensured the signs were of the right dimensions to be visible and readable but not distracting for commuters,” Speelman said.

A total of 16 signs were installed between July 5 and 12 with help from the California Highway Patrol.

The hope is that the signs help residents who are experiencing mental health challenges.

“The signs are not just for people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and their loved ones,” Speelman said. “They are a way to educate anyone who uses that freeway overpass that help is available 24/7 in English and Spanish for people who are in a crisis.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255, the Ventura County Crisis Service Line at (866) 998-2243 or 911.