The goal is zero suicides

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Each National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, September, reminds me of how close I came to losing my teenage daughter to suicide. Today, she still lives with depression, but she is thriving and well. Often, in special moments together, she will look at me and say, “I’m so glad I’m here.” We have this unspoken language of gratitude for her life.

She is one of the lucky ones.

It took more than a year for her to fully recover. Along the way, we discovered effective mental health and suicide awareness programs are largely underutilized in school settings where teens spend the vast majority of their time. With 50% of lifetime mental illnesses showing their signs by age 14, Texas lacks both standards and funding for addressing the needs of students, teachers and their families.

A recent CDC report should prompt the State of Texas to action. Despite having similar rates of depression, Texas teens attempted suicide last year at almost twice the national average. The report also revealed 34.2 percent of high school students surveyed in Texas had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness for two weeks or longer in the past year; 17.6 percent of Texas students had seriously considered attempting suicide; and 14.5 percent of Texas students had made a suicide plan.

These statistics are sobering and cannot be ignored. Texas needs to improve early intervention around mental health and suicide in our schools immediately. Lawmakers should consider Suicide Safer Schools , a model which guides school districts in developing a systematic approach to suicide prevention, intervention and post-intervention care.

The model works. A suicide safer model adopted by Boerne ISD has kept the school district suicide free for three years. This school district’s success shows that the bold goal of zero suicides is attainable.

Texas also needs to improve early intervention at home. Families need to know how to seek treatment for mental illnesses. At the onset of my daughter’s depression, her freshman year of high school, neither she nor I understood the signs we were seeing. It’s an illness that is underdiagnosed, misunderstood, and overlooked.

Texas should increase funding for parents and teens to receive education on mental health issues in school, clinic, and other community settings, including funding for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) mental health and suicide awareness programs

As an organization, NAMI is poised to help create a community in which we begin to address mental health as the public health issue that it is. People of all ages should feel as comfortable talking about mental health as they do physical health. Having positive conversations about mental health is an important first step to making sure people can get help when they need it.

When parents, teens, and schools are equipped with the resources, information and support they need to address the mental health needs of our youth, we will move closer to achieving the goal of zero suicides.

NAMI Austin is hosting one of TribFest’s Partner events, NAMIWalks Austin, the largest mental health awareness event in Central Texas, on Saturday, September 29, at the Long Center. The event supports free mental health education, support and advocacy programs for families and individuals living with mental illness and the schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and workplaces where they live, learn, work and worship.

Karen Ranus

Executive director, NAMI Austin

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