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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane’s Monroe Street Bridge focal point for suicide, mental health awareness

After hearing about another possible suicide at the Monroe Street Bridge this week, Toni Cornell was tired of sitting around as Spokane suffered.

Beginning with a Facebook page, Monroe Bridge Peaceful Protest, and an order of shirts saying “free hugs,” Cornell expected to do just a little bit of good with her small push. But a few days later, her one-woman operation turned into a team, and her page has gained hundreds of followers.

By Thursday afternoon, she was in action, putting stickers on the bridge telling people that they matter. She hopes to build the momentum into a real discussion and acknowledgment of the reality of mental health in Spokane.

“When they get to that point on the bridge, they can’t effectively advocate for themselves,” Cornell said. “We have to step up.”

Cornell and her team are planning a peaceful gathering Sunday on the Monroe Street Bridge, where participants will hold signs and give free hugs. They hope to let people know that there is nothing wrong or shameful about struggling with mental health.

“We have to get more tolerance and community support,” said Jodi Rivas, a friend of Cornell. “Neighbors should help neighbors.”

The number of suicide attempts in Spokane in 2020 increased by more than 150 from 2018, with 1,103 attempts resulting in emergency room visits in 2020 compared to 934 attempts in 2018, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.

Suicides on the Monroe Street bridge are only a small, visible part of the picture. Almost 50% of suicides in Spokane in 2015-2019 were from firearms, while only about 4% of suicides were falls, according to the health district.

Still, Julie Humphreys, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department, said officers frequently respond to potential jumpers on the bridge.

“It’s always gut-wrenching,” Humphreys said. “We work hard to get people off that bridge and to safety.”

Every member of the team putting stickers on the bridge has been affected by mental health in some way. Kat McKenna, one of the activists, brought a picture of a friend who had jumped out the window of her Spokane apartment.

But with all of the well-wishes and heartfelt messages, there was a recognition that real change had to happen for this problem to get better.

Cornell said her daughter was hospitalized after going through years of self-harm. After she was hospitalized, it took months for her to get an appointment with a physician trained in mental health issues.

“The Spokane mental health system needs an overhaul,” Cornell said.

Cornell also mentioned that a net on the bridge is a commonsense move that hasn’t been implemented by local government.

Protesters will meet at 10 a.m. on the Monroe Street Bridge on Sunday, and the event is open to the public.