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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – The suicide rate in Texas has steadily increased over the years and suicide rate in East Texas is the highest in the Lone Star State.
“A lot of the time people have instant regret,” Sgt. Robert Garcia with the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said. “What did I miss? What was I not paying attention to? Is this my fault somehow?”
2020 has been a challenging year and has had a negative impact on the mental health of many East Texans. Some are struggling to cope with change.
“The children are at home now so caregivers have turned into not only parents but private chefs, tutors, and teachers on top of that. It has impacted us in a way.”Leah Sperry, Andrews Center
According to a Texas Health and Human Services report, East Texas has one of the highest suicide rates in the state with 16.2 deaths per 100,000 people.
A non-profit working to change that is the Andrews Center. It provides free mental-health screenings to people in five counties and offers a crisis hotline at 1-877-934-2131 that is answered all the time.
“People know their people,” Sperry said. “If you’re around someone look at their behaviors. What’s changing? Eating changes? Sleep pattern off? Are they overwhelmed? We tell people not to say how can I help you? A lot of the time they don’t even know they need help. It’s a matter of letting them know I’m here. Let me help you.”
If someone suspects someone in their household may be having suicidal thoughts, experts say it’s a good idea to restrict access to firearms and other weapons.
“Pay attention to everything in the home. Anything that can be considered a weapon you may want to remove it from the person and lessen the chance of them harming themselves or any other person. “
The number of people who have taken their lives in Smith County is down from 28 last year to 16 in 2020. Smith County Sheriff’s Crisis Intervention team members says it’s after the pandemic they are most concerned about once people are done experiencing the trauma suffered during the year.
Training for law enforcement has helped local authorities respond to mental health crises.
“It’s been a game changer,” Garcia said. “When I first came in, we might be quick to take someone with a mental health crisis to jail, because we might not have known exactly what they were going through. It’s a common issue amongst the mental health community. There is an overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system who probably don’t need to be there.”
A list of resources offered by the Andrews Center can be found here.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also offers free classes on suicide prevention for families.
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