Concerned about the increasing number of suicides in Williamson County, a 16-member Suicide Task Force Review Team has begun an extensive effort to compile current data on what it believes is a mental health crisis.
"If suicide was a disease, it would already be at epidemic status," said John Teel, the executive director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District.
According to task force members, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the number of suicides in Williamson County is increasing.
Some of the challenges facing those who want to help people who are experiencing mental health problems or depression, and as a result are potential suicide victims, is studying current data on the problem.
Judge Bill Gravell, Jr., who is the Williamson County Justice Peace for Precinct Three and one of the organizers of the suicide task force, said the latest data on suicides in the county is for 2015. "One of the task force goals is to develop more current data," Gravell said.
"If our data is current, then we can get the 'who' and the 'what' and that will help us figures out the answer to 'why'," Gravell told the group. Gravell said talented researcher Justine Price, an epidemiologist for the Williamson County & Cities Health District, is a member of the task force and would be assisting in the development of the needed data.
"The more accurate data we can provide, the more it will help us to develop answers," Price told the task force.
Gravell said as a justice of the peace, he has listed three cases of suicide in Williamson County this year and has 17 other deaths under investigation. He is one of four county justices of the peace who determine the cause of death after a potential suicide.
"We are concerned about getting it right," Gravell said. "But we want to be careful and make sure we don't rush to a wrong conclusion. My job is to write the last chapter in a person's life."
Gravell said one of the difficulties in developing accurate information about suicides is the fact that, "Suicide continues to be the one thing that is constantly whispered, but is not talked about. Since people don't know what to say, they often don't say anything," Gravell said.
Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said he hoped the task force would work to make sure people know that help is available. Morgan and other members of the task force cited the Bluebonnet Trails Crisis Hotline at 800-841-1255 as a source of assistance for those needing help.
"People need to know where they can go for help," Morgan said. "There is lots of help available for people in Williamson County."
The task force will meet again in two months. In addition to Gravell, Price, Teel and Morgan, other task force members are: Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs, Constable Vinnie Cheronne, and Dr. Jeff Jarvis, the Williamson County EMS Medical Director.
Also, State Rep. Terry Wilson, Bluebonnet Trails Executive Director Andrea Richardson, Ashley Tenney of the Georgetown ISD, Kathy Pierce of Alan's Hope, Annie Burwell, Williamson County Mobile Outreach, attorney Elizabeth Whited and community leader Katy Warner.