AP NEWS

Suicide prevention advocates lobby Woodlands for special resource officer

May 17, 2019

Only hours after hundreds of people attended a public forum and call to action seminar aimed at stopping suicide and increasing mental health care throughout Montgomery County, several dozen advocates for better suicide prevention efforts lobbied The Woodlands Township board on Thursday night to approve a new position to help with the issues.

Two local activists, Kim Moayed and Jodie Janacek — who are co-chairpersons of the annual “Out of Darkness” suicide awareness and prevention walk and also volunteers with the American Society for Suicide Prevention, the Greater Houston Chapter — gave a more than 45-minute presentation on the issue of suicide, showing slides with terms, explanations and steps for prevention. The duo also shared their own experiences with suicide and mental health issues, which they said had led them into activism to help find solutions to the complex epidemic that has affected not only Montgomery County and The Woodlands, but all of the country.

“We’re not doing an excellent job helping,” Janacek said of suicide prevention efforts. “Suicide is extremely complex … it is a mesh of problems that come together.”

The presentation included numerous slides that described things such as the various risk factors and events that may trigger a suicide attempt; the prevention-intervention-postvention approach to helping people struggling with mental health issues; and ways to reduce the risk of someone attempting suicide, both Janacek and Moayed said they believed The Woodlands Township could play a pivotal role in helping stop the epidemic by hiring a community outreach director for mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts — a full-time staff member with dedicated duties related to the issue.

Moayed said the potential staff members would make mental wellness efforts a priority, allowing the township board to use their platform as community leaders to education the community and elevate discussion of the issue. She also said what she and others envision is a partnership similar to what the township does in regard to funding Safe Harbor, a program to stop child abuse and online predators.

“(You) Go from talking about a problem to saying we’re going to solve the problem,” Moayed explained. “(With Safe Harbor) You saw a problem, felt a need to solve it and found a way to fund it. We feel this (idea) would mirror that.”

The idea of adding a special staff member to focus solely on suicide prevention and mental health awareness was appealing to each of the seven board members in attendance, with all expressing their belief it would be beneficial to the community. However, calls by Director John McMullan to take action to approve the position on Thursday were quashed after other board members said it was better to do the process slowly rather than hastily in order to best utilize community collaborations.

“Part of the reason I support this is because I don’t have the skills to understand this,” McMullan said of suicide prevention efforts. “We’re going to need the opinion of someone who is truly an expert who would help the community and elected leaders in making policy.”

Township board Chairman Gordy Bunch reminded attendees and Moayed and Janacek that he had introduced a 2020 budget initiative earlier in the day at the township’s budget planning session aimed at expanding existing mental health and crisis intervention training for the township’s firefighters and EMTs. Bunch, along with Director Bruce Rieser, advocated waiting to decide how to move forward so the best possible outcome was achieved. However McMullan continued to push the idea of taking action immediately.

“I think we should start the process of hiring an outreach person tonight,” McMullan added. “I think we should take that step tonight: hire someone to help this board.”

After McMullan’s statements, Bunch told township staff to add discussions and explorations of adding a full-time suicide prevention resource officer to the township’s list of budget initiative for 2020 in addition to the additional training for firefighters and EMTs.

Rieser said while he understands McMullan’s point on the issue, he believed that working on the issue with other entities over a period of time will result in a better program as opposed to an immediate decision after one night of discussion.

“What we need to do is sit down and start partnering with groups. I’m not sure hiring one person at the township is the most effective (approach),” Rieser said. “You are going to need a team, a pretty good-sized one, to make a difference. We would be better served to spend the money as wisely as possible to get the broadest reach (for suicide prevention) possible.”

Following the debate on the issue, the board made an informal decision — which means it was not voted on as usual — to explore creating a position. The board also tabbed Director John Anthony Brown to be a liasion for the board with area groups working to stop suicides.

jeff.forward@chron.com