Local entities combat rising suicide rates in Harris County

Image description
Local entities combat rising suicide rates in Harris County
Image description
Local entities combat rising suicide rates in Harris County
Image description
Local entities combat rising suicide rates in Harris County
Image description
Local entities combat rising suicide rates in Harris County

Cy-Fair resident Sarah Henderson attempted suicide for the first time when she was 15.


After growing up in an abusive environment, she said she resorted to self-harming, eating disorders and ultimately attempting suicide because she felt she had no other option to escape the trauma.


“I’ve heard people say it’s a selfish or cowardly act and, ‘They’re just transferring the pain to their families,’” she said. “There are some really unfortunate assumptions about suicide. I wish there was more compassion around it.”


Henderson, who raises awareness with groups such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she has survived multiple suicide attempts and also lost family members and friends to suicide.


In Harris County, there were 515 reported suicides last year—up 13.2% from the 455 suicides a decade earlier in 2008, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.


Brandon Towle, a board member for the AFSP’s Southeast Texas Chapter, said for every reported death by suicide, there are an estimated 25 suicide attempts. He said the fast pace of living and working in Houston as well as fluctuations in the local economy could tie into the increase in suicides.


“Whether you have a dual- or single-income family, one is likely going to have long commutes, so they’re losing a couple hours out of their family life,” he said. “A lot of families live in fear of losing their job. Most organizations think their employees are lucky to have a job, so they don’t necessarily invest in them.”


However, local entities including nonprofits, Cy-Fair ISD and law enforcement offices are implementing programs to combat rising suicide rates.



Youth outreach


According to the AFSP, some individuals are more at risk for suicide than others—including those with mental health conditions, chronic pain and stressful life events.


Stress for students comes in many forms, CFISD Director of Psychological Services Traci Schluter said. Students face stress when it comes to academic performance, applying for college and seeking acceptance from peers.


Social media has magnified these pressures, Schluter said, and outside of school, family relationships and finances can also be overwhelming.


“Some of the more common [misconceptions] expressed by parents and school staff include: ‘They’re just looking for attention,’ ‘They’re just going through a phase,’ and ‘I was the same way when I was a kid, and I turned out just fine,’” she said.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicide was the second-leading cause of death for Texans ages 10-34 in 2017—the first year it was ranked as the second-leading cause of death for the 10-14 age group.


In response to the growing concern, CFISD launched a Mental Health Intervention Team—made up of two licensed psychologists, four licensed professional counselors and two mental health officers—at the start of the 2018-19 school year.


Schluter said the team has trained staff in new suicide risk screening and threat assessment protocols as well as response procedures.


“Research has shown that for a significant portion of the community, school-based mental health services represents the only mental health services they will ever access,” she said.


Alissa Sughrue, policy coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Texas, said state lawmakers passed several bills regarding mental health in public schools during the 86th legislative session. This included House Bill 18, which increases training for employees and mental health education for students, and Senate Bill 11, which allots funding for districts to use for mental health resources and suicide prevention strategies.


CFISD approved 29 additional elementary school counselors in 2019-20.


The pressures students face typically do not diminish by college, said Caroline Ferguson, the founder of Grateful & Company. Proceeds from the 22-year-old’s local business support suicide prevention programs, therapists and campus workshops with the goal of eliminating suicides on college campuses.


After losing her father to suicide at age 9, the University of Houston graduate said she also lost a friend to suicide while in school.


A 2017 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 10.5% of individuals between the ages of 18-25 had suicidal thoughts in the last year—compared to 4.3% of adults ages 26-49.


“Depression [doesn’t care about] your age, your identity, who you are, where you came from, where you’re going,” Ferguson said. “It has no limit, it has no boundary. We all are capable of falling apart.”



Local resources


With the annual reported suicides in Harris County outpacing the county’s 15% population growth from 2010-18, law enforcement agencies and mental health specialists are working to bolster the mental health system.


Frank Webb, the project manager of Harris County’s Bureau of Mental Health and Jail Diversion, said the county has a Crisis Intervention Response Team and a Homeless Outreach Team to help connect suicidal individuals with assistance.


The county’s telepsychiatry program enables officers to access clinicians via iPads when encountering someone believed to be mentally ill. While training has also ramped up for law enforcement, Webb said officers generally are not adequately equipped to deal with individuals with mental health issues.


“We need more mental health resources,” he said. “Unfortunately, every law enforcement agency that I’m aware of—their numbers of responses to people with mental health issues and in crisis are going up … and the resources have gone down.”


Between 2015-18, the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 office received 234 suicide-related calls, according to precinct data. Harris County Constable Precinct 5 officers responded to 127 suicide-related calls during this time.


Counseling services are available through local groups including Shield Bearer and Cy-Hope. Regina Spencer moved to Cy-Fair in 2018 and opened Spencer & Associates Therapeutic Alliance on Jones Road.


When a loved one exhibits signs of suicidal thoughts, Spencer said being deliberate in letting them know they are not alone is key.


“They don’t feel like they’re worthy of help, and so they’re not going to bother you with their problems,” she said. “That’s generally why people do commit suicide—because they don’t want to be a burden.”



Progress made


After 22 years in her field, Spencer said many barriers around mental health care access have come down. For instance, telehealth has allowed busy clients to have therapy sessions via phone or video call during their lunch breaks while at work.


“There is a misconception that if you have anxiety or depression at all it’s a problem, but sometimes that’s a natural reaction to certain events,” Spencer said. “It’s when it disrupts your life that it becomes a problem.”


At the state level, Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 3980 into law June 14, requiring the Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to study and prepare a report on Texas suicide statistics and prevention efforts.


Sughrue said the state currently does not fund any suicide prevention programming, although multiple attempts were made to change that earlier this year.


HB 2693 proposed establishing a grant program to fund community-based suicide prevention initiatives, but it did not pass. An amendment to HB 1 also would have created a


$2 million grant for these purposes, but the Senate ultimately elected to remove the amendment, Sughrue said.


Henderson said even in a metropolitan area such as Houston, there are never enough resources or funding for mental health care.


Conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions are ubiquitous in Cy-Fair and in any community, she said.


“Suicide is something we need to talk about,” Henderson said.  “Not talking about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, and pretending it’s not there doesn’t help.”


Additional reporting by Andrew Christman and Hannah Zedaker


Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately reported Harris County saw 391 suicides in 2008. The story has been updated to reflect there were 455 suicides in Harris County in 2008, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. 
By


MOST RECENT

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

Texas Medical Center reports only 4% uptick in ICU bed use despite continued COVID-19 case increases

Compared to 1,350 total intensive care units in use June 30, Texas Medical Center has seen only a slight uptick in occupancies since then, with 1,394 reported July 9.

Lone Star College had almost 3,000 foreign students attend in the spring semester this year. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement rules could affect thousands of Lone Star College students

Lone Star College is currently unsure how a recent ICE rule will be affected its foreign student population.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Harris County. (Community Impact Staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 907 cases, 12 deaths confirmed July 9

The 12 deaths—the largest single day total in Harris County since the pandemic began—brings the total COVID-19 death count in the county to 423.

Effective July 9, hospitals in more than 100 counties across the state must now postpone elective surgeries unrelated to COVID-19. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
MAP: Governor expands restrictions on elective surgeries to more than 100 Texas counties

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the restrictions that initially required only hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties to postpone all non-medically necessary surgeries and procedures that are unrelated to COVID-19.

Budget outlook improves for several Cy-Fair taxing entities as sales tax collections rebound

A once uncertain outlook for several Cy-Fair-area taxing entities is starting to improve after sales tax distributions in July—for taxes collected in May—came in higher than expected.

The Texas Department of Transportation has announced the following lane closures planned along Hwy. 290 this weekend. (Courtesy Fotolia)
8 Hwy. 290 lane closures affecting Cy-Fair drivers this weekend, July 10-12

Be sure to note these lane closures before heading out this weekend.

Cypress Creek Fire Department officials can notify residents of nearby emergencies, road closures and other safety alerts on a street-by-street level through the app. (Courtesy Cypress Creek Fire Department)
Cypress Creek Fire Department partners with Ring app

Cypress Creek Fire Department officials can notify residents of nearby emergencies, road closures and other safety alerts on a street-by-street level through the app.

In compliance with Gov. Greg Abbott's July 2 executive order, the University Interscholastic League is requiring the use of facial coverings when practical to do so for all summer activity participants, among other guidelines. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
UIL releases guidelines for conducting summer activities during COVID-19 pandemic

The University Interscholastic League released udpated guidelines for schools conducting summer activities such as sports training and marching band practices on July 8.

Craft Burger is one of 15 restaurants, catering companies and food trucks participating in this year's Black Restaurant Week. (Courtesy Craft Burger)
Houston's fifth annual Black Restaurant Week returns July 10-19

Participating patrons can play Black Restaurant Week Bingo and vote for their favorite participating eateries for a chance to win prizes such as restaurant gift cards, culinary treats and cash prizes.