AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is launching the Suicide Care Initiative across the state to offer additional training for local mental health providers. 

The 39 local mental health authorities in the state will help with workforce development, services and training.

The four regional local mental health authorities participating in the initiative as Regional Suicide Care Support Centers and technical assistance hubs are Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Integral Care in Travis County, MHMR of Tarrant County and Tropical Texas Behavioral Health. 

All four local mental health authorities are also planning to add additional staff to answer calls to help with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

“We want to make sure we’re able to reach people, as many as possible,” said Trina Ita, associate commissioner of behavioral health services. “We want to make sure that we don’t have calls that are going and that there are layers for people to get through before they get connected to the right kind of help.”

Since 2012, Integral Care has answered calls made to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline within Travis County. Calls are routed to their 24/7 Crisis Helpline.

“If someone is talking about giving things away, if they’re maybe not engaging in some of the same activities that they used to, if they just seem kind of down, if their behavior is changing, maybe using more substances, these are all things that we want to talk to them about,” said Nicole Warren, practice manager for the 24/7 Crisis Helpline.

With the Suicide Care Initiative, Integral Care will eventually take calls from areas outside of Travis County that are routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It will serve 63 more counties and the additional staff will help with the calls. For example, if a call came in from Williamson County, Integral Care would connect the person with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services.

“It’s very important for calls to be answered within the state because that means we have access to knowledge and information that’s more local,” Warren said. “If somebody is calling in a crisis that’s in Texas, it makes more sense for someone in Texas to answer that call, than someone, say, in New York.”

Integral Care also offers follow-up calls.

Warren recalls a time when a follow-up call helped the person on the other side of the phone connect with the right services.

“Initially, someone didn’t want to share too much information with us,” she said. “They were a little bit wary. After we continued following up with them for a week or so, they ended up sharing some information, including their location, which allowed us to dispatch our mobile team.

Texas works to reduce suicide among young adults and veterans

“Suicide is a serious public health issue that affects all Texas communities, and it is preventable,” said Dr. Courtney N. Phillips, HHS executive commissioner said in a released statement. “We know that in Texas, younger people and veterans experience higher rates of suicide. We’re looking at how we can reach those groups with the message that Texas is here for them and there is hope.” 

According to a release from HHSC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Texans ages 15 to 34 and is also the fourth-leading cause of death for Texans ages 35 to 44. The efforts to reduce suicide in young adults and veterans comes as September marks National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. 

Lisa Sullivan with the Texas Suicide Prevention Council says there are 25 local coalitions, 35 statewide partners, 22 military and veteran partners and higher education coalition members across the state working on reducing and preventing suicides.

“Where the community plays such a vital role is putting the pieces in place in these local communities that can make a difference at the local level,” she said.

Statistics about Texas and suicide. (Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

The Texas Suicide Prevention Council also offers training.

“In the last 12 months, approximately 20,000 people have accessed this training,” she said. “That is a vital resource for gatekeeper training, which is identifying warning signs, risk factors and how to help someone who might be at risk knowing where to get care in your community.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255 and veterans press 1. The support line for people who are deaf and hard of hearing is (800) 799-4889. Spanish speakers can call (888) 628-9454. 

There are several other resources Texans can use in additional counseling and crisis lines, too, such as the Suicide Prevention Wallet Card and Texans Veterans + Family Alliance Grant program.