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Judge calls for more suicide prevention, education as rates rise

January 25, 2019

As the rates of suicides and attempted suicides rise in The Woodlands yet again, township elected officials have increasingly sounded the alarm for more suicide awareness and prevention education.

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, The Woodlands Township Board of Directors received a sobering report from Montgomery County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack on the rising rates of suicides and attempted suicides in the township. There were a total of 115 suicides or attempted suicides in The Woodlands in 2018, a 44 percent increase from 2017, when there were 80 reported suicides or attempted suicides.

Mack advocated for more suicide awareness education for children and adults, and also called for “mental health first aid” careplan to be developed to help identify people who are struggling and may commit suicide. The suicide rate in the entire Montgomery County, he reported, has increased by 80 percent since 2011.

Along with Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Matt Beasley, Mack helps deal with death inquests and responds to suicide cases in his jurisdiction, something he said is eye-opening for both himself and Beasley.

“We see first hand the impact every day,” Mack told the board.

Also in attendance was Kim Hess, a local suicide awareness and education advocate whose daughter — Cassidy — died by suicide around Christmas in 2015. Mack thanked Hess for her work on the issue, including founding the Cassidy Joined for Hope, a nationally known 501(C)(3) nonprofit that is “focused on teen suicide prevention in the schools and community.”

Showing a series of slides, Mack illustrated the depth of the suicide epidemic that is ongoing across the nation, reporting that an average of 44,965 people die per year from suicide in America. Included in those statistics was data on veteran suicides — an average of 20 to 22 veterans die by suicide according to several studies — and that Montgomery County saw an 80 percent increase in suicides from 2011 to present.

“If we had an 80 percent increase in death by heart disease…if we had an 80 percent increase in death by cancer, what would be the response from our community,” Mack asked. “What we can do as a community is care. Part of that is mental health needs to become a priority. Mental health first aid is something our community needs to start doing.”

Mack said Texas may be known being the top ranked state in many quality of life categories, but when it comes to mental health spending per capita, it ranks a dismal 49th in the nation. He said in addition to a lack of state funding for mental health care, many people without health insurance cannot afford mental health care.

“There is a stigma that goes with mental health isues,” Mack explained as one reason why those who need help do not seek it out.

Hess also spoke to the board, describing how her daughter had died by suicide in 2015, despite leading a productive teenage life where she was popular and had success in school. Losing Cassidy to suicide, Hess said, had made her more aware of the issue and how suicide knows no boundaries.

“It is affecting so many more people than I could imagine,” Hess said. “This has got to stop. It does not discriminate. We are doing out best (with Cassidy Joined for Hope) to spread the message in our schools. Students need to help each other. Save each other. Today’s world is hard…your whole life unfolds on social media.”

All seven of the board members thanked Hess and Mack for the presentation, some recounting personal stories with suicide or how they had become more aware of the epidemic in recent years.

“I wanted to say what a difference you’ve made,” said Director Ann Snyder, who had first inquired about the rising rates of suicide and attempted suicide in January, 2018. “Life is not perfect, none of us are. You have made an amazing difference.”

Director John McMullan, the latest board member to raise concerns about suicide rates, said that when he reads the monthly law enforcment reports and sees the plethora of suicides, it is “just staggering” to see how many occur.

“Ours is not the first community or the only community struggling with this,” McMullan said.

Mack finished his presentation by issuing a call to action to anyone in the community who can help, asking for analysis of reasons why suicide is occurring as well as catching it before it leads to death.

“Let’s start peeling back the onion on this and explore the reasons. The key here is reducing the attempts. This is a great starting point,” Mack added. “Starting right here in this room is the key to reducing these numbers.”

jeff.forward@chron.com

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