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Real-time help to prevent suicides now available in Harris County

There have already been 65 suicides in Harris County this year, including children as young as 10 and 12. Now, the Harris County Sheriff's Office is on a mission to prevent them.
Credit: KHOU
Harris County is the first sheriff's office in the nation to partner with clinicians to provide real-time mental health help for residents.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is using social media to spotlight suicides.

In a post that's been shared hundreds of times on Twitter and Facebook, Sheriff Gonzalez confirmed children as young as 10 and 12-years old have committed suicide within Harris County in 2019.

While Gonzalez did include the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in his posts, 1-800-273-8255, locally, the sheriff's office just implemented an innovative, first-of-its-kind program across Harris County.

It's called Tele-Psychiatry, and the program launched in December 2018 after a series of tests in the community. Harris County is the first sheriff's office in the nation to partner with clinicians to provide real-time mental health help for residents.

Twenty uniformed HCSO patrol deputies are equipped with iPads and WiFi which directly connect with someone at the Harris Center for Mental Health 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"This is a community-wide effort that is needed," Gonzalez said of the program designed to better respond to the needs of Harris County residents.

"It’s a technology that the majority of youth would be very comfortable with," said Mike Hawkins who is a licensed clinician with the Harris Center. "If that takes 10 minutes, 15 minutes or an hour, our whole primary concern is getting that individual the help that they need.

Since December 2018, the Tele-Psychiatry program has helped nearly 50 individuals. "One of the first incidents that we were able to resolve was a 16-year-old girl that was suicidal," Gonzalez said.

The Harris Center is able to get a person the immediate help they need. That may be admitting a person to a hospital or mental health center, and someone with the Harris Center will follow up with the individual within 24 hours of that iPad conversation.

"And as a community, we don’t want to lose anyone. And if we could help with that intervention, that prevention up front," Gonzalez said. "Then again, it could be a matter of life and death."

According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 20, the institute has classified 65 suicide cases. In that same time period in 2018, the number was 76.

For 2018, the Institute documented a total of 512 suicide cases within Harris County.

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