By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter
HIGHWAYS bosses are yet to agree to make a Denton motorway bridge safer, a health chief has claimed.
The assertion was made as a new five-year suicide prevention strategy for Tameside was unveiled that aims to reduce and ultimately stop people taking their own lives.
The town hall’s strategic commissioning board heard that the borough has the third highest suicide rate for men aged 35-64 in the country.
Officers say the number of people lost to suicide in the Tameside and Glossop health region is “significant”, with 75 deaths occurring between 2015-17 alone.
One element of the plan aims to tackle “high frequency locations”, with efforts to make “high risk” public areas safer and work to prevent imitative suicides.
Jessica Williams, interim director of commissioning, told members that despite efforts by health officers, a safety risk bridge in Denton was not being prioritised for upgrades by Highways England.
A HE spokesman said it was not always possible to make structural alterations to bridges.
Ms Williams described the narrow footbridge which crosses over the M67, connecting to Crown Point shopping centre, as a particular “flashpoint”.
“The health and social care team has been working with the highways commission to see if that bridge can be upgraded,” she said.
“It’s an appalling bridge anyway, but it needs to be widened and it needs to be fully covered.
“We’ve been having those discussions but the highways commission’s response at the moment is along the lines of, ‘There’s not sufficient demand for it yet’.”
They were continuing to work with the authority to try and address the condition of the bridge, which was “shockingly bad”, Ms Williams added.
The Bridge the Gap campaign, which was launched last summer, leaves messages of support on bridges across Greater Manchester.
It was started by mum Lisa Barnes, from Hyde, after she considered taking her own life but was talked down from a railway bridge by a negotiator.
Council leader Brenda Warrington said: “Thankfully there’s been a greater awareness, the bridges thing particularly – you see ribbons all over the place and messages to people saying they are not alone.
“But again it’s how we take away the stigma from people who do get to such a degree that they seriously contemplate taking their own life.”
A spokesman for Highways England said they work closely with emergency services to ensure a quick response to and prevention of incidents involving people on carriageways or motorway bridges.
“We take this very sensitive matter extremely seriously and are constantly monitoring our motorways and major A roads for emerging issues,” they said.
“Our motorways and bridges are, by their nature, open to almost everyone but if an issue with a particular location has been identified we look to work with agencies such as health bodies, local authorities and the Samaritans to consider appropriate interventions.
“These may or may not involve an engineering solution; due to issues such as increased weight it is not always possible to make structural alterations to bridges.”
The majority of suicides occur in men, with the poorest and those living in the most deprived areas most at risk. Other at risk groups includes those who self-harm, children and young people and those with untreated depression.
But less than a third of all suicides occur in individuals who are known to mental health services.
One of the main aims of the strategy is to reduce the risk in particularly among middle aged men by focusing on issues such as debt, unemployment, social isolation and drug and alcohol misuse.
Preventing and responding to self-harm is also another key concern – in 2016-17 there were 512 hospital admissions due to self-harm in Tameside
Looking after the mental health of children and young people, increasing bereavement support for people affected by suicide and training for community members and professionals are also proposed in the strategy.
Helplines and websites:
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com
Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number will not show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression.
It does not have a helpline but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information: www.depressionalliance.org/
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/
The Sanctuary (0300 003 7029) helps people who are struggling to cope – experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or in crisis.
You can call them between 8pm and 6am every night. It operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year.