By State Representative Tony Dale
I was recently talking to the Cedar Park Police Department's Chaplain and mentioned that I planned on participating in the September 10th "Shine the Light On Hope" ceremony at the Williamson County Courthouse. The ceremony was held as part of National Suicide Prevention Month. He told me that he had recently been to the home of a family where the father had committed suicide. The grief stricken widow said that it was like "he threw a monster into the room and left them alone to deal with it". Sadly, last year in Williamson County 59 people committed suicide. There are many families and friends who are left behind to deal with this monster.
Suicide is not something that many of us want to talk about. The sad and early demise of a loved one, friend or neighbor can have a life-long impact on the survivors. Fortunately there are resources available locally to help people who find themselves in crisis and for friends and family who want to help their loved ones.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Americans aged 15 to 24 and the eleventh leading cause across all ages. One person commits suicide in the USA every 15 minutes and that person is four times more likely to be male than female. Many readers will know that suicide has had a major impact on our military and veteran community as well. Last year, the United States military reported more deaths due to suicide for active duty personnel than the number who died in combat. All of these deaths are preventable with proper treatment and medication.
Suicide risk factors are the same across the globe. They include mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, hopelessness, access to lethal means, recent loss of loved ones, unemployment and vulnerability to self- harm. Protective factors are also the same in all corners of the world. Factors that are a safeguard against suicide and suicidal behaviors include high self-esteem, social connectedness, problem-solving skills, supportive family and friends.
Each of us as family and friends have a role in suicide prevention. Sometime the person in crisis may not recognize the need for intervention. When we notice behavior such as angry outbursts, excessive anxiety, depression, withdrawal from society or addictions we can and should act. Since many young people engage in suicidal behavior it is incumbent upon teachers, coaches and administrators to be aware and act in a timely manner and to take seriously the harmful impact that bullying can have on young people. One needs to look no further than the tragic suicide of a Leander High School student in 2011 to understand how serious such issues are.
Locally Williamson County funds the Mobile Outreach Team to provide mental health intervention assistance to first responders in assessing and stabilizing people who need immediate assistance. In Georgetown the San Gabriel Respite Center is a safe place for individuals in crisis to stay for a short time while professionals help them resolve the crisis. The respite center was created through the work of many on a county task force and with the support of our local hospitals. It is primarily funded by the state and operated by Bluebonnet Trails Community Services.
I encourage you to not be afraid to get involved if you have concerns about a friend or loved one. With your help hopefully we can keep the monster of suicide at bay. For local information on suicide prevention and mental health please visit www.wilcomentalhealth.org . To speak to someone immediately when in a crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Bluebonnet Trails MHMR hotline at 1-800-841-1255.
Dale was elected to the Texas House in November 2012. He is a small business owner and veteran of the U.S. Army who previously served on the Cedar Park City Council. He represents western Williamson County, including the communities of Cedar Park, Leander and Brushy Creek, as well as parts of north Austin.