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As Teen Suicide Rates Climb, Texas Legislators Discuss Mental Health Services In Schools

Gabriel C. Pérez

Twelve percent of teenagers in Texas said they attempted suicide in 2017, according to a report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's higher than the national average of 7 percent.

Seventeen percent of ninth- through 12th-graders surveyed in Texas said they seriously considered suicide last year, and 14 percent said they had made a plan for how to do it.

When it comes to LGBTQ teens in Texas, the rates are significantly higher: 42 percent said they had seriously considered suicide.

The report came out as legislators and advocates are discussing how to improve mental health services in schools following the shooting in Santa Fe.

Josette Saxton, director of mental health policy at Texans Care for Children, says children should be taught how to cope with anxiety and stress as early as elementary school.

"[Communities should] support kids even before they get to the place where they're feeling so sad and hopeless that they would even consider taking their own life,” she said.

At a joint health and public education committee last week, Madhukar Trivedi, a doctor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and chair for the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care, told legislators that early intervention is crucial for mental health. He said waiting until a student is in crisis is too late.

“For mental health, what we are doing is really getting our act together when there is stage 4 breast cancer, and then we get surprised that we are not really moving the needle at all,” he said. “Suicide rates in teens are going up. So, whatever we are doing, unfortunately, is not actually working.”

Saxton said mental health services should be a priority because it can affect so many different academic and social problems.

“They’re going to see improvements in testing, in attendance, and then also in reducing issues like substance abuse, delinquency, a whole slew of factors,” she said.

One thing her organization is advocating for is a statewide center to provide schools mental health resources similar to the school safety center based out of Texas State University.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.