Public Policy: Suicide Prevention and Public Safety
Suicides and attempted suicides are a public health crisis in Texas. Adolescents in Texas are twice as likely to attempt suicide than the national average, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 34. Comprehensive interventions would dramatically reduce these tragedies. Untreated serious mental illness can present a risk of harm to the individual and to others. Suicide prevention and public safety should be a priority for Texas.
Suicide Safer Schools programming
Suicide Safer Schools is a model for school districts to develop a systematic approach to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention care. Key components of a suicide safe school culture include:
- leadership that develops a culture of safety
- model suicide safe school policies
- well trained staff and students
- treatment pathways to care
- screen/assessment for those at-risk
- caregiver resources
- support for student re-entry
Texas should utilize this model to develop and disseminate best suicide-related best practices to school districts.
Suicide prevention and training for educators
89% of Texas educators surveyed reported having personally responded to a youth suicide. Teachers spend hours every week with students, and they can be a valuable resource in reaching students at risk of self-harm. Although school districts are required to have a plan and training in place to address suicide prevention, the state has no means of enforcing this requirement. Teachers are also not required to complete a suicide prevention training as part of renewing their licensure. Texas should strengthen its enforcement of suicide prevention training requirements.
Extreme Risk Protective Orders
A common thread in many shootings are the family members of shooters who saw loved ones engaging in dangerous behaviors and grew concerned—even before any violence occurred. These family members are disempowered from stepping in and protecting their loved ones and others. The majority of gun deaths are suicides and the majority of suicides involve a gun. If we can restrict access to firearms for those who present an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others, we can save lives. Texas should craft an Extreme Risk Protective Order system to allow family members and law enforcement the opportunity to petition judges for temporary restriction of firearms rights for people who are an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others.
Mandatory suicide prevention training for mental health professionals
Texas does not require mental health professionals, including those with licensure, to have taken a suicide prevention training course to work in the mental health care field. These professionals are the most likely to be working with individuals at-risk of suicide, and so they need to be empowered with information on how to prevent suicide and intervene when necessary. Texas should require some form of suicide prevention training as part of licensure and require professional education programs to incorporate this training into their curriculum.
Alert system for missing and at-risk adults with serious mental illness
When adults with serious mental illness go missing and are at significant risk of harm, families will often desperately contact law enforcement, hang flyers, post on social media, and contact their local mental health advocacy organizations. This is a time of intense worry and concern on the part of family members, while their loved ones can be in grave danger from compromised mental state, exposure to the elements, and vulnerability to abuse and violence. When other vulnerable populations go missing, the state can distribute safety alerts to notify the public of the missing person, which leverages the public eye in finding and helping the person. Texas should establish a similar alert system for when individuals with serious mental illness go missing, and in doing so, require appropriate training and procedures for local law enforcement.
Testimony on Suicide Prevention and Public Safety