To live in greater Houston is to be exposed to near-constant stressors: floods, traffic, and unrelenting heat. It’s no surprise that we ranked Number One in a recent health care report on the nation’s most stressful cities. Another unfortunate truth is the rising suicide rate involving firearms, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.
Although research suggests there is no single cause of suicide, mental health issues such as depression are believed to play a role in many cases. During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, organizations, mental health advocates, health care professionals, and communities come together to educate the public about suicide risk factors, warning signs, available resources, and the importance of seeking help for individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges.
It’s imperative for all of us to listen to those who are struggling and speak up if we observe unusual behavior. Many of our Precinct One team members have been trained on the AS+K (Ask About Suicide to Save a Life) method, part of our Healthy Minds Healthy Communities initiative. This is a way we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to raise awareness and promote prevention.
You don’t need to be a mental health professional to do your part in suicide prevention. When you hear or see a warning sign, such as unbearable physical or emotional pain, talk about death or suicide, increased isolation, or dramatic mood changes, employ the AS+K framework.
- AS+K about suicide.
- Seek more information.
- Safety First by considering ways a person at risk can find immediate support.
- Secure (lock up) Lethal Means (such as guns or medication) to help put time and distance between someone at risk.
- Know where and how to refer (take action).
It may be a challenging conversation to start, but talking about suicide – directly, calmly, and compassionately – can save a life. After you ask, connect them to immediate support, such as a doctor or counselor. If a person is in crisis, Harris County’s Holistic Assistance Response Team (HART) program connects underserved residents with needed services, including mental health support. Community-based programs such as HART can be reached through the Harris County Public Health emergency line, at 713-755-5050. Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams are another option within city limits and can be reached by calling a 24-hour crisis line, 713-970-7000.
For an immediate emergency, never hesitate to call 911 or the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in English and Spanish.
A community is only as healthy as its most vulnerable residents. While Precinct One works every day to eliminate health disparities and improve access to services, we need everyone to serve as the listeners, encouragers, and connectors in their neighborhoods. It never hurts to AS+K.