State Sen. Bob Antonacci believes suicide in New York has been studied enough. He wants action, not another task force.
That's why he voted Tuesday against two bills in the state Senate — one that would establish a black youth suicide task force and another that would create a panel to examine suicide among LGBTQ youth. He was the lone opponent of both bills.
The bills passed by 60-1 votes in the Senate.
"Suicide is an absolutely unbelievable scourge on our society," Antonacci, R-Onondaga, said in a Senate floor speech. "We don't need any more task forces. We need action. We need proper funding. We need to go at the heart of the problem at mental illness."
Antonacci referenced a report released in April by the New York State Suicide Prevention Task Force. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his 2017 State of the State address that he would establish a suicide prevention task force. The task force formed in November 2017.
The 50-page report highlights the impact of suicide, especially on Latina teens, the LGBTQ community and veterans. The task force made specific recommendations to address suicide among those groups.
Some of the task force's main recommendations include the creation of a regional suicide prevention framework, investing in prevention programs targeting bullying and cyberbullying and suicide prevention training for state employees.
The report acknowledges there are higher rates of suicide and suicide attempts among LGBTQ people. The task force's recommendations include having suicide prevention hotlines provide services specific to the LGBTQ community.
There are passing mentions in the report to suicide among black people, but not about black youth.
Last week, the state Senate held a hearing on suicide and suicide prevention. Dr. Michael Lindsey, executive director of the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University, testified that suicide rates among black youth increased by "statistically significant levels" between 1999 and 2017.
At the hearing, Antonacci asked Lindsey about the state suicide prevention task force's report and whether there are services available now instead of creating additional panels to study the problem. Lindsey explained that one challenge is some schools lack mental health services for students. He said there should be a mental health provider and social worker in every school. He also supports training mental health professionals on culturally specific issues that affect black youth and families.
The state task force's report acknowledges the need for cultural competence and the role of schools in suicide prevention.
"We don't need any more false promises or false hope to any segment of our society," Antonacci said. "We need to stop suicide across the board. Another task force isn't going to do that."