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Suicide is an Anne Arundel County public health crisis Nathan Volke

Capital - 1/16/2020

Over the last few months, I have been a member of the county's Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. My perspective on the task force is that of a legal gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment.

But it is also that of a person who has been impacted by gun violence, having lost a family member to death through suicide committed with a firearm. With that in mind, I have listened with great interest to all of the information and data that was collected, then presented, as part of the report released by the task force in December.

One of the key findings of that report was this: from 2013-2017 in Anne Arundel County, 67% of all deaths with a firearm were the result of suicide.

Beyond gun violence, suicide has been one of the top 10 causes of death in Anne Arundel County for the last seven years. And the number of suicides has been increasing, both in the county and nationally. In 2017, the last year for which we have data, we lost 95 Anne Arundel residents to death through suicide.

That does not include all the unsuccessful attempts at death through suicide. Many deaths by suicide are committed with guns, but many are not. Over the last year, we have lost children in our schools who have felt they have no other option than to end their life by suicide.

Add to these numbers the following fact: suicide has been marginalized and stigmatized for decades. For too long, we have been ashamed to talk with our family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors about mental health and illness.

Our county has made strides in the last few years to provide resources to residents at risk of suicide. In 2014, the county launched the Crisis Intervention Team. These teams operate jointly with the county's Mental Health Agency and the police department to provide people who would be hospitalized or incarcerated with stable, more long-term treatment.

But the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment published by the county indicates the need to expand resources to address this growing issue. That report notes that since 2013, the number of crisis interventions in public schools doubled from 2013 to 2018.

Furthermore, there has been a 70% increase (from 2012 to 2018) in the number of county residents seeking mental health services.

The only way to successfully confront this issue is to bring the conversation directly into the public sphere. In my capacity on the County Council, that starts by declaring that suicide is a public health crisis.

The emphasis on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force was on identifying how the public health system can be used to help individuals who are at risk of committing gun violence. Nearly 70% of those individuals need mental health resources dedicated to suicide prevention.

Given the significant impact of suicide on our county, I felt moved to take action. That is why, at the Jan. 6County Council meeting, I introduced Resolution 2-20, which declares suicide a public health crisis in Anne Arundel County and requests that the Department of Health take immediate steps to offer adequate treatment and services to county residents in need.

As we approach the next budget cycle for the fiscal year 2021 budget in May, I am hoping to see County Executive Steuart Pittman provide more resources for mental health in our schools and our community. Please share your perspective on this issue at the next County Council meeting on Tuesday, when this resolution will be heard.

Nathan Volke represents District 3 on the Anne Arundel County Council. He lives in Pasadena.