02/29/2016 10:41 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2017

It's Time for Courts to Advance Zero Suicide

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As the pioneer of the first Mental Health Court in the United States and longtime member of the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention, all public-private health systems should make suicide prevention a core component. This includes prioritizing education, awareness, treatment and community engagement. This must include the court system where matters of mental health, trauma, and substance disorders are daily addressed by judges in collaboration with social service providers.

It has been nearly thirty years since Therapeutic Jurisprudence, (TJ) the study of the role of law as a therapeutic agent, was applied in America's first drug court. Since then, the science and practice of TJ has facilitated and guided the development of thousands of problem solving and collaborative courts. TJ also influenced court process in virtually all areas of the law. In 2014, Professor David B. Wexler, co-founder of TJ, launched TJ in the Mainstream to provide education to judges, lawyers, mental health policy experts and academics interested in applying the principles of TJ.

In my view, judges in collaborative courts, such as family law, child welfare, juvenile justice and the specialized problem solving courts, represent a new breed of public health champions. It is essential to understand that, from a TJ and court innovation perspective, the marriage of the law to mental health, providers and law enforcement has transformed public health approaches.

Suicide is a problem that touches the lives of many Americans. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, between 2001 and 2009 an average of 33,000 suicide deaths occurred each year in the United States. Suicide is among the top five causes of death for adults under age 45 in the United States, and in 2009, more Americans died from suicide than from motor vehicle traffic-related injuries.

As a new member of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Executive Committee it is an honor to endorse and adopt the Zero Suicide Initiative as a core component in Broward's Misdemeanor Mental Health Court. The vision of Zero Suicide as an aspirational goal is consistent with the fundamental mission of mental health courts to end the criminalization of people with serious mental health problems. This includes prioritizing mental health care, stigma reduction, dignity, health activation, and an abiding belief in recovery.

To establish Zero Suicide as a core component in your court and community, consider the following principles as recently implemented by the Oregon Health Authority. They address such areas as impact on communities and families, identification of risk factors and high risk population groups, protective strategies, and the importance of adequate funding of suicide prevention services. Suicide prevention is the responsibility of the entire community. I encourage you to look at the Youth Suicide Intervention and Prevention Plan in more details. This plan is designed to improve continuity of care, education on warning signs and also aligns with the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Join me in advancing Zero Suicide in your court systems and communities. To learn more about Zero Suicide and how to develop a Zero Suicide Educational Program in your court system and community, go to Zero Suicide or contact the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.