In what many would call the ‘Bible Belt’ of the Lone Star State, an ugly reality looms. Communities in East Texas are grappling with a suicide rate that’s higher than any of the other most populous counties in the state.
Charlotte Huff, a Texas-based freelance reporter, looked into the suicide rate after seeing a University of Texas Health System report that put Smith County – the Tyler area – at the top of the list of county suicide rates. Huff says the problem is complicated to address.
“Suicide is really intertwined with lots of other issues, like mental health issues and substance abuse issues, as well,” she says.
One factor that could contribute to the high suicide rate is race. Huff says the suicide rate is three times higher for people who are white, and the Tyler area has a higher white population than the statewide average.
Huff spoke with East Texas residents about other possible factors that play a role.
“They say this is improving,” she says, “but that churches would sometimes imply that if you didn’t have strong enough religious faith, then you would be more likely to have some kind of mental health issue.”
To lower the suicide rate, the Tyler community is making changes. Huff says churches have begun hosting events to encourage members to seek mental health help.
Huff attended a behavioral health leadership team meeting in the area.
“It’s really quite impressive,” she says. “There are people from all kinds of areas of the community that are part of that – the cops, churches, police officers, mental health leaders. And they say for the first time they’ve really interacted. They’re brainstorming. They’re talking about not just the problem, but ways to address it.”
Written by Angela Bonilla.