After San Marcos resident Kara Yocom’s bullied 14-year-old son committed suicide in 2015, she started the Isaac Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Awareness to illuminate the shortcomings of mental health awareness in the U.S. Today, she travels to families in similar situations to talk about youth suicide and mental health.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, there were 112 suicide deaths in Hays County between 2012-16. As the rate of suicide continues to rise, San Marcos community members have followed suit and localized the issue with the creation of the Coalition on Mental Health. The coalition follows a 2012 city-proposed Youth Master Plan to “create and implement a blueprint for opportunities, strategies, leadership and desired outcomes for ALL the young people.”
The San Marcos Commission on Children and Youth will team up with dozens of mental health workers to make mental health support resources readily available to San Marcos’ youth. Launched by the commission Dec. 5, the coalition is in its early stages, forming subcommittees and outlining goals. Despite its young age, the coalition was met with the support of community members, including the aforementioned Yocom, who joined the coalition as a community member and ally.
“I’m hoping to see the suicide rates go down. I’m hoping they can put more awareness out there to let people know that they can speak up or reach out and talk to people,” Yocom said. “The gap is that they’re scared to talk but I offer a face to suicide so they’re not scared to talk to me because I’ve been there; my son did take his life and I know what the parents go through (on) a day-to-day basis.”
The committee formed five subcommittees at the first meeting Dec. 5, 2018: one to establish the missions and goals of the coalition; another to increase community awareness and reduce stigma around mental health; a committee to write grants and secure funding for mental health services; one to assess existing prevention and treatment services; and a committee that will focus on data collection and tracking in the area.
The coalition assembled again Jan. 16 at the San Marcos Activity Center for its second meeting. In attendance, mental health officers, counselors, religious leaders, Central Texas Medical Center staff and many other mental health field workers established the needs of San Marcos’ youth. The meetings are also open to the public. Anne Halsey, San Marcos CISD board trustee member and chair member of the San Marcos Commission on Children and Youth, coordinated both meetings.
“The mental health coalition stems from an initiative convened by the city several years ago in developing a youth master plan to address the needs and services of youth and children in our community ages 0-24,” Halsey said. “In that assessment and drawing of that plan, mental health needs and services was identified as a major priority area.”
There are not many other statistics readily accessible to the public, but the lack of knowledge is one of the reasons behind the coalition’s formation. Halsey said she plans to look at available data, and most importantly the publicly unavailable data, to craft an understanding of San Marcos’ needs.
Alex Mylius, the coordinator for home visiting programs for Community Action in Central Texas, is second in charge of the coalition and is a part of the missions and goals subcommittee. She said it’s planning to meet soon and establish a mission statement which will, in turn, drive the other subcommittees.
“There was no subcommittee meetings between the December meeting and this large meeting today, mostly because we were really interested in learning what System of Care is going to offer to us because they have been able to come into other coalitions and provide that structure or strategic planning work, so we wanted to have kind of a blank slate for them to work within,” Mylius said. “Now that they have such a flexible offering to us on what they can do to support our work, we feel kind of free to start moving forward with that work.”
Texas System of Care is led by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Department of State Health Services and the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Social Work Research. It also collaborates with child-serving state agencies, family and youth advocacy organizations and other stakeholders within the Texas children’s mental health service delivery system, according to its website.
Corey Morris, community development and training specialist for the Texas System of Care through UT Austin, recently found out about the coalition through a city-issued press release and joined the mission and goals subcommittee as well.
“Because I do community and development, I feel like I have the comfort and confidence to help with the process of developing mission statement, goals and looking at community initiatives and what the best practice is going to be,” Morris said.
The next all-member mental health coalition is scheduled for Feb. 20. Interested individuals can contact Youth Services Manager Jessica Ramos at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.