St. Catharines woman calls for barriers on Burgoyne Bridge

She stood on the Burgoyne Bridge keeping watch and now she's publicly expressing the need for safety features on the downtown St. Catharines bridge.

Christina Pozsonyi says she has a lot of experience with people suffering from mental health issues after working as a security guard at the St.Catharines hospital for a year.

She says that inspired her to spend a night at the bridge, reaching out to people in need after several recent suicides.

The St.Catharines woman has penned a letter to the Mayor and City Council members asking for barriers on the bridge.

St.Catharines Council supported the barriers, but Niagara Regional Council has delayed funding for the barriers.

During a meeting last week at least two councillors said they wouldn't support spending four million dollars on barriers.

Instead, they want the money spent on mental health programs.

Pozsonyi says while it's a good idea in theory, it won't stop people from wanting to end their pain on the bridge and we need barriers now.

To hear her interview with CKTB's Tom McConnell, click here.

The region's medical officer of health says the barriers are effective in preventing suicides and he will continue to call for their installation.

Interim CAO Ron Tripp tells CKTB the councillors' decision not to spend the money right now, has not slowed down the process of planning for barriers on the bridge.

Tripp says planning continues with 4 million dollars set aside in the budget, but they just can't spend the money until council gives it final approval.

He says design on the bridge is underway and he should have a report back by April.

To hear Ron Tripp's interview with CKTB's Matt Holmes, click here.

Below is the letter Pozsonyi sent to us.

Monday March 4, 2019

Dear CKTB News Team,

My name is Christina Pozsonyi. I ask that you please be patient with the length of this letter and the content herein, as it all ties together. I know Niagara United has already petitioned the Mayor and council members about the importance of mental health in Niagara and the absolute need for barriers on the Burgoyne Bridge, but one more voice for those who cannot speak for themselves can only help that much more. So, here I am.

For one year I worked as a security guard for Paladin Security Group at the St. Catharines Hospital on Fourth Ave. My role as a security guard varied, but my official title was ‘Rapid Response Guard.’ Besides the occasional shift as an onsite guard responding to codes, among other duties, I was a ‘Patient Watch’ guard. Patient Watch guards are often requested by hospital nursing staff for patients who suffer with Dementia/Alzheimer’s and are oftentimes confused and wander and need to be kept safe. Patient watch guards are also requested for patients whose wrists need to be restrained for their own safety, for example, elderly patients who pulled tubes from their body, again, for their own safety. At the St. Catharines hospital however, the need for patient watch guards was and is oftentimes for those who have attempted suicide or are suicidal. It was with these patients I was often assigned to work most often with, and it is from this place I speak to you now.

I am a graduate of Niagara College in the Community and Justice Service program. This program emphasizes Corrections and requires mandatory work placement experience hours in order to graduate. I completed my work placement experience hours at Wayside House of Niagara, which is an adult male substance abuse rehabilitation programming center, and at the Niagara Detention Center in Thorold. Upon graduation I volunteered for more than one year with Corrections Canada through the John Howard Society of Niagara. I was a Probation Intake Officer at the courthouse, and I also volunteered at the Probation and Parole Office in St. Catharines doing Case Aid with probation officers. Doing placement experience hours at Wayside House opened my eyes as a young adult to the seriousness of not only addiction, but the reasons behind why some people suffer with addiction issues and the battle they endure to break free from them. Doing my placement experience hours at the Niagara Detention Centre opened my eyes further to the cycle of addiction and criminal behaviour, and how oftentimes they work hand in hand, as some clients at Wayside later ended up in the Detention Center. As a volunteer with John Howard Society working at the courthouse and in the Probation and Parole Office, I was able to realize the intricacies and complexities of the human psyche and how past trauma is often at the root of criminal and addictive behaviour, although this is not the case in all situations. Sometimes it is the result of poor choices.

Fast forward to January 31, 2018. This was my first shift working for Paladin Security. Initially I travelled to the various Niagara Health properties in Niagara working shifts where the company needed me, but due to severe health issues with a family member, I needed to stay in St. Catharines to be closer to home, as such, Paladin allowed me to work strictly at the St. Catharines Hospital in the spring of 2018.

Children, teenagers and adults go to the St. Catharines hospital every day seeking help for their mental health issues. Some overdose on drugs, or medication(s), and must be medically cleared before being admitted to mental health, and some feel as though they’re having a break-down and want to get help before they try to do something they might regret. For those patients who physically survive overdoses, and those who are either actively suicidal or contemplating suicide, they have all shared the same thoughts with me: They do not want to die. They want the pain to end. The same is true for those hurting people who have committed suicide over the past six months at the Burgoyne Bridge. Simply put, they do not know how to make it end, and for those who have died, death was their only way to permanent healing.

I watched a video on YouTube about a man who had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. One thing he said that pulled at my heart and soul was that as he jumped over, he had instantly regretted his decision and wished he could take it back but could not.  He survived that fall. I share this because I want to ask each one of you who reads this letter one question:

How do you know for certain that each person who jumped off the Burgoyne Bridge did not regret the choice they had made, but could not take that choice back because there were and are no barriers?

With all my experience in the different fields I have worked, there is a common process amongst all organizations who are responsible for the care and treatment of either offenders, those who suffer with addictions issues, and those who suffer with mental health issues. Before delving into the depth of working on root causes, the immediate issues that can be addressed and treated, must. For example, giving the patients required medication(s) to assist treatment. Medication is not the only answer, but sometimes, neither is treatment.

I understand that some council members reject the idea of spending funds on barriers for the Burgoyne Bridge and would rather see the money spent on mental health programming. What they do not seem to realize is the barrier is the medication necessary to assist any form of treatment and programming. It is not the answer, and neither is medication, but the barrier is the difference between life and death for those who in that moment are suicidal, and for those on the roads below. The barrier provides a few moments extra for someone who is hurting to change their mind. One young woman attempted suicide on the Burgoyne Bridge November 2018 and survived. She is still alive today. This absolutely destroys all assumptions that if barriers are placed on the bridge, then those thinking of jumping will only find another way to die. She is still alive today! She does not want to die, she wants the pain to end, and this is where programming can, but does not always, help.

I had my own battles in the past with mental health. Past trauma I was unable to cope with and due to long wait times (months, sometimes more than a year) I never received the help I so desperately sought. I too was suicidal, and in my darkest moment it was not a mental health professional I reached out to for help. I was alone, sobbing on my knees on my bedroom floor and I was screaming for help. No one was there to listen. That night I had a dream that led me on a volunteer trip to Israel ten months later, where I met Gregory, a Holocaust survivor who was eight years old when he survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was Gregory who saved my life – his story, his message to me, his pain and suffering, and his ability to LIVE and find joy again, and the choices I made in my life after that experience to heal. It was a painful road, and not one I would want to live over again, so I know how difficult it is to suffer and not want to live with the pain any longer. As you can see however, I also know what it is to be a survivor. I admire how much council members want to spend funds on mental health programming, but it is not enough, as it is not always the professionals who help. Sometimes it is a life altering experience in Israel, sometimes it is a stranger’s small act of kindness on the street, and sometimes it is the barrier on a bridge. The barrier is a subconscious message to those who suffer and believe no one cares for them, that people do in fact care and are willing to spend millions of dollars because they are in fact worth it.

I am a single mother of three children. I am a survivor and I cannot stress that enough. I am a survivor of trauma, and of mental health issues as a result of trauma. I once overdosed on anti-depressants, not because I wanted to die, but because I wanted the pain to end. I did not die that day, and as a result went on to have two more children (I only had one at the time), went back to school and graduated from Niagara College, worked with offenders and those with mental health and addictions issues, and am currently waiting to hear back from the Canadian Armed Forces to see if I am accepted into the Reserves as an Infantry Soldier. None of this would have been possible had I not lived, and although I did not jump from the Burgoyne Bridge, it just goes to show how desperately we need barriers so that other lives can be saved.

I, along with other citizens of St. Catharines, implore you to please place barriers on the Burgoyne Bridge, or will it take one of your family members to jump before you care enough to do so?  

Sincerely,

Christina Pozsonyi