Katie Posthuma-Bain & Her Petition to Install Barriers on the Hoan Bridge
Annually in Milwaukee, at least one known suicidal death occurs on the Hoan Bridge, according to Katie Posthuma-Bain, who started a petition in January 2018 on change.org to install barriers on the Hoan Bridge.
It’s hard to miss the Hoan Bridge when driving in Milwaukee. The large yellow arches are beautiful to drive under as you enter the city. However, as beautiful as the bridge may be, there is also a haunting aspect that has become part of the bridge’s history. The bridge over the years has become a spot in the city where suicides have taken place. Barbara Moser, M.D. from Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee said that there have been around 30 known suicides, but it’s hard to get accurate data because of a lack of information and suicide records from the bridge.
The Hoan Bridge has incredibly short guardrails. Dr. Moser said that they are only about 4 feet in height. Much like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, the beauty of the Hoan Bridge can no longer be a façade for the tragedies that occur annually.
Posthuma-Bain was profiled in a Fox 6 interview about the Hoan Bridge in January of this year when the first known suicide of the year occurred.
Posthuma-Bain said, “Stories about the bridge suicides are not usually shown in the media or on the news because partly it is to protect those people and their families, and the other part is that others may see that and see it as a way to potentially hurt themselves.”
In 2010, former Sheriff Clark was denied by the city when he petitioned that barriers be installed on the bridge.
When we asked Poshuma-Bain about the denied request it seemed that it mostly had to do with financial issues rather than the city being against barriers being installed.
Posthuma-Bain decided to start the petition because being a counselor with a background in psychology, she knows just how impulsive the decision to jump is. She stressed the importance of understanding that suicide is an impulsive decision.
“If a suicide attempt is stopped the first time, it is much less likely, or not likely at all that another attempt will be made,” Poshuma-Bain said. “That is why barriers are so crucial.”
Since suicide attempts are so impulsive, the lack of barriers increases the possibility of that impulsive decision becoming a permanent one much higher.
“Places that are easy to access, they could be a suicide destination,” said Dr. Bob Dubois, a volunteer and leader with Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, and a psychology professor for Waukesha County Technical College. “If there are no barriers or strategies to help people when they get to that particular place, they are more likely to follow through.”
In conversation with Dr. Moser, who is the Chair of Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, she added that “Suicide barriers are really the only thing that have proven to be effective, whereas, signage with the hotline number has not been super effective.”
She continued stating there has been an, “86% reduction in European and Asian countries with the barriers being installed.” She also mentioned that after a bridge in New Zealand removed barriers, 5 fold the amount of suicides occurred. Since they reinstated the barriers, no deaths have occurred.
Although signage has not proven to be the most effective way of preventing a suicide attempt, it does start conversation and build awareness around the topic of suicide.
Posthuma-Bain hopes that “Ideally both would be granted [barriers and signage]. I consider it a success if we can get a sign up.”
Barbara said that the DOT (Department of Transportation) in Milwaukee does not get involved with the asking for barriers because they claim it is not a “state traffic issue.”
“The entire bridge is shut down after a suicide attempt, therefore causing a ‘state traffic issue.’ It is also scary for drivers on the bridge to stop to help the suicide attempter because the current guardrails are only 4 feet tall. Although people want to help save lives, the current guardrails, the lack of care by the DOT, and no action from Milwaukee lawmakers makes it incredibly difficult. “
Posthuma-Bain is hoping to receive 1,000 signatures and then bring the petition to lawmakers. There currently is no deadline for the petition. The amount of signatures gained is more important than ever with the current political and social climate making the topics of mental health and suicide more politicized than ever.
Katie added, “The more signatures, the better.”
If you wish to sign Katie’s petition and make a difference in the city of Milwaukee, you can do so through this link.
I contacted Posthuma-Bain for an update on the status of her petition and the process, but have yet to hear back.