Following the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in 2018, school safety and student mental health are among the top priorities for the Texas Legislature in 2019. Legislative actions to keep Texas students healthy and safe must include policy strategies to prevent and address youth suicide, including strategies that focus on actions in our schools, our communities, and our state agencies. Fortunately, the Legislature is considering several bills and funding proposals, as highlighted in the Recommendations section of this brief, that will effectively address this urgent problem.
For the vast majority of students in Texas, the biggest threat to their health and safety comes not from someone seeking to commit mass violence in their schools but in the form of violence or harm that is self-inflicted — including suicide. In fact, the U.S. Secret Service describes school violence as “the tip of the iceberg” of pain, despair, and isolation that many youth deal with on a daily basis. Youth suicide data for Texas provide disturbing confirmation of that “iceberg”: in 2017, one out of eight high school students (12 percent) in Texas reported attempting suicide at least once in the previous year. This rate has increased in recent years and is higher than the national average for suicide attempts among high school students.
While youth who consider suicide pose the greatest danger to themselves, it is also true that successful efforts to prevent and address suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth can help prevent the highly rare but tragic incidents of violence targeted at others. The U.S. Secret Service reports that four out of five perpetrators of mass school violence had attempted or seriously considered suicide prior to their attacks.
To address these challenges, a range of efforts are needed to promote mental and emotional well-being among young people; provide youth with knowledge and skills to avoid risky or harmful behaviors (including drug or alcohol use); and prevent and respond to suicidal and related behaviors when they happen.