FORBES | In Middle Tennessee, we are known for excellence in health care services, music, and economic growth. However, one distinction we would like to relinquish is being home to the national park with the highest number of suicides in the United States.
According to an analysis by Outdoor Magazine, the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the nation’s deadliest parks with 25 suicide deaths from the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge between January 2006 and September 2016. In recent years, the suicide rate has climbed, with five deaths in 2017 and three this past year. Suicide has become a public health crisis in my home of Williamson County, Tennessee, one that was brought to my attention by my wife Tracy through her work on the board of Centerstone. More tragedies are preventable if we act swiftly and intentionally.
Why is the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge so deadly? The 1,572-foot-long concrete bridge only has a short, 32-inch railing barring a 155-foot drop. And since the first recorded death at the bridge in 2000, it has gained a reputation for being the “suicide” bridge. Famed country music singer-songwriter Naomi Judd, who struggled with depression, wrote in her autobiography that she contemplated ending her life by jumping from this very spot: “I knew exactly how I was going to carry out my suicide. … I would drive my car to the very center, and in one swift motion open the car door and climb over the railing. … After the 155-foot drop to State Route 96 below, it would all be over, now and forever.”
While Ms. Judd ultimately did not attempt suicide and was able to seek and receive help, 32 others have made the devastating decision to end their lives at the Natchez Trace. Now, friends and family members of these individuals are uniting as the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition and partnering with the nationally recognized behavioral health leader Centerstone and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network with a singular focus: to raise the bridge railing or install a barrier to prevent future deaths. This is a cause I whole-heartedly support. And so does the science.
Read more at Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrist/2019/03/07/tennessee-is-home-to-one-of-the-deadliest-national-parks-in-the-nation-heres-how-we-change-that/#58afbc387d5e